Dr. Clarence Clottey Weighs-In on Smoking and the Dangers of Secondhand Smoke in Public

People who live in Canada enjoy many protections from secondhand smoke, such as the prohibition of smoking in public buildings, but there are still many ways in which people may suffer from daily exposure to secondhand smoke. Because of the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke, we spoke to Dr. Clarence Clottey about just how damaging this can be. 

Dr. Clarence Clottey has worked for the federal, provincial, regional and municipal levels of government in Canada and has practiced public health internationally. He has a fellowship in Public Health and Preventive Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians of Canada (FRCPC) and a certification in Family Medicine from the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CCFP). Clottey has some unique insights into how one can keep themselves and their family safe from the dangers of secondhand smoke. 

Where the Dangers Still Exist – 

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, almost 18 percent of Canadians over the age of 12 smoke regularly. According to Findlaw Canada, young persons over 16 as well as adults can still be exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles because there is no prohibition on smoking in vehicles in which all of the occupants are 16 and older. Some provinces still allow smoking in elderly care and/or psychiatric facilities in ventilated smoking rooms. Of course, people are still allowed to smoke in their homes, and people can encounter secondhand smoke within 20 feet of their person outdoors. 

Since Dr. Clottey is also a consultant in Public Health, he reminds us that secondhand smoke can be a factor at home as well as when traveling to other countries, depending upon the area. For example, when traveling to the United States, one will encounter 12 states that have no laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars or workplaces. One well-known U.S. travel destination, Las Vegas, Nevada, does not prohibit smoking in casinos and bars that only allow entrance by adults 21 years of age and older. Also, Miami, Florida does not prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars. 

The Immediate Dangers – 

Secondhand smoke is not just a simple danger to a child, for example, who is reared in a household where family members are smoking indoors. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, secondhand smoke can have immediate effects that can be quite severe. It contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. Seventy of those chemicals are known carcinogens. According to the American Lung Organization, some of these toxins present in secondhand smoke include hydrogen cyanide, arsenic ammonia, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde and benzene. 

For example, breathing secondhand smoke damages one’s blood vessels and can cause a heart attack. This is especially true for those who already suffer heart disease. Even a small exposure to secondhand smoke can harm the lining of one’s blood vessels and make their blood platelets to lack proper hydration, which can lead to a heart attack. 

According to Cancer.org, those with asthma can be triggered into an asthma attack by exposure to secondhand smoke. Also, secondhand smoke exposure has been known to be associated with strokes. 

The Longer-Term Dangers – 

According to the American Lung Society, there is no safe exposure level to secondhand smoke. In the U.S., 2.5 million deaths since 1964 are directly attributable to secondhand smoke exposure. 

According to HealthyChildren.org, people who experience longer-term exposure to secondhand smoke risk lung cancer and heart disease. Children who experience longer-term exposure are at risk of reduced lung capacity and greater incidence of ear infections, coughs, colds and respiratory issues. Pregnant women who smoke endanger their unborn child with the possibility of premature birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, miscarriage and learning deficits or attention-deficit disorders. Dr. Clottey emphasizes that a pregnant woman who stops smoking any time during her pregnancy is going to reduce these risks. The sooner a pregnant woman stops smoking, the better. 

How to Protect Oneself and One’s Family – 

According to Dr. Clottey, the best means of protecting oneself and family from the dangers of secondhand smoke are to: 

  • Quit smoking
  • Don’t allow smoking in or near one’s home or vehicle
  • Only patronize non-smoking restaurants
  • Ensure that one’s children are not exposed to secondhand smoke in the homes of friends, other family or caretakers
  • Keep pregnant family members away from all sources of secondhand smoke
  • Teach one’s children to avoid being around secondhand smoke

Also, one can actually measure exposure to secondhand smoke with a simple blood, urine or saliva sample that looks for the presence of a byproduct called cotinine. 

There are many methods that can assist with smoking cessation, including drug aids, that can help smokers quit the habit. Talk to your family doctor about ways to quit smoking.

Unfortunately, smoking still remains part of life in Canada and throughout the world today, so Dr. Clarence Clottey urges people to be vigilant in order to minimize their exposure to secondhand smoke for their own sake and for that of their loved ones.