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Passive smoking in today’s world has become an issue that is just as important to address as chain smoking. By definition, passive smoking refers to the inhalation of smoke produced by tobacco products indirectly i.e. by being in the vicinity of smokers. Passive smokers can also include unborn children when pregnant mothers inhale cigarette smoke. The significant rise in the number of smokers over the years has also led to a much larger increase in those who are susceptible to passive smoking. 85% of smoke from cigarettes is side-stream smoke i.e. smoke that has not passed through the smoker’s lungs and is hence unfiltered and more dangerous.

Smoking itself raises multiple risks that are shared and sometimes accentuated in passive smokers. While a regular smoker ingests nicotine and tar only from the cigarettes he/she uses, those in the vicinity of these ‘regulars’ end up being subjected to a larger amount of these toxins due to the density of suspended particles in the air (which are smaller in side-stream smoke and hence stay airborne longer) from multiple smokers, which adds to the existing pollution in the air.

It has been estimated that Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore contribute to almost half the amount of passive smokers in the country, also reporting hundreds of deaths every year from complications. These toxins lead to the development of respiratory problems such as asthma, a condition where patients find it difficult to breathe due to restricted respiratory passageways and heart conditions such as arrhythmia and hypertension. It has been observed that the risks of passive smoking are highest where children are concerned, with cancer risks for various types going as high at 82%.

While these effects are short-term, the long-term scenario involves hereditary issues where children with smoking parents are either still born or die shortly after birth, also known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even if these children survive, they are usually affected with tumors and mental disabilities, caused by the imbalance in development caused by these toxins during the gestation period.

Efforts on the part of the government to raise awareness about passive smoking have met with little success as stereotypes still associate smoking on an individual basis. The concept of passive smoking has been seen to be known more in urban areas than in rural areas, though there is little disparity in the lack of knowledge concerning the association of smoking related problems to passive smoking too.

A concerted campaign to educate people about the dangers of passive smoking must be initiated. In the meantime, some basic measures that can be taken is to maintain a smoke-free environment at all times and to avoid smoking in enclosed spaces. It is only by these efforts that passive smoking can be combated and ultimately defeated.

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