If you live with or are close to someone who smokes, you probably want that person to quit for their own sake. It’s true that there are many immediate and long-term health benefits to smoking cessation. But by encouraging your loved one to quit, you also may be protecting your own health and well-being.
“Secondhand smoke has the same risk factors as someone who does smoke,” says Dr. Seema Rao, an internist with BJC Medical Group of Missouri and on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “In adults who live with a smoker or are exposed to smoke at work, secondhand smoke leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. In fact, these adults have a 25- to 30-percent increased risk of heart disease, compared to nonsmokers. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased incidence of asthma, respiratory tract infections and ear infections.”
Dr. Melanie Edwards, a Saint Louis University Cancer Center thoracic surgeon, notes that tobacco use is a common issue for many of her patients. In fact, she points to statistics from the World Health Organization, which estimates about 600,000 deaths per year worldwide can be attributed to secondhand smoke exposure. “That’s less than the 6 millions deaths per year for active smokers, but it’s still significant,” she says. “In 2004, more than 25 percent of deaths from secondhand smoke were in children.”
Figures like these make it clear that smoking cessation is not just an issue for the smoker. And those living with smokers can’t simply protect themselves with commercial air purifiers, either. “Most home air filters or purifiers are not designed to capture gaseous pollutants; and tobacco particles are so small, they are not captured, anyway,” says Ellen Brennan, a thoracic nurse navigator at the SSM St. Joseph Health Center Cancer Resource Center. “The best way to protect yourself is to encourage the person you live with to quit smoking and offer assistance and support. Not allowing any smoking in the house is the first step.”
Edwards agrees. “Once someone smokes inside a residence or an automobile, it’s very difficult to eradicate the tobacco residue,” she says. “Maintain as many areas as possible where no smoking is done and avoid any exposure to the secondhand smoke. If the smoker is smoking outside and then comes indoors, changing clothes (and at the very least, washing hands) before touching others can decrease the risk, especially to children. A shower and washing the hair would be even better.”
Supporting a smoker who wants to quit is the best way to protect the entire household. Because smoking cessation is so difficult, assistance from family members is crucial to an individual’s efforts.
The American Cancer Society suggests making sure the smoker knows he or she can turn to loved ones for emotional support. Family and friends also can help the individual keep his or her mind off smoking by engaging in healthy, tobacco-free activities, and removing all ashtrays, lighters and other smoking paraphernalia from the house.
At the same time, it’s not helpful to nag, scold or tease someone who is trying to quit smoking. Instead, express your faith that your loved one can quit. Smoking cessation is a big deal, so celebrate the gateway to better health for the ex-smoker and for yourself!