Secondhand smoke endangers pets, raises their risk of cancer
01/01/2017 // Howard Roark // Views

Secondhand smoke is hazardous not only for non-smoking children and adults, but for pets as well. A new FDA Consumer Update entitled Secondhand (and Third-Hand) Smoke May Be Making Your Pet Sick details yet more reasons to quit smoking.

A less informed era

If you are middle-aged or older, chances are very good that as you grew up, the health risks of secondhand smoke never entered your mind. Many of us recall that when we were children our parents smoked in our homes and cars without any ventilation. Indeed, the warnings only began to be widely disseminated in the 1990s.

The World Health Organization's publication Tobacco control in developing countries states:

"... the 1972 report of the Surgeon General (USDHEW 1972) contained only cautious statements about possible health effects of passive smoke, and the 1986 report (USDHHS 1986) was the first to focus on involuntary or passive smoking."

Let's clear the air

It may seem counter-intuitive that secondhand smoke poses any significant health risk when one considers that the tobacco smoke inhaled by the smoker directly through the cigarette is much more concentrated than the smoke in the surrounding air. But according to the National Institutes of Health, unpublished studies from the Philip Morris Tobacco Company provide insight as to why secondhand smoke is so dangerous: Sidestream smoke (that which is emitted from the lit end of a cigarette) contains four times as many toxins as mainstream smoke (that which is inhaled and then exhaled by the smoker).

Sidestream smoke burns at a lower temperature than mainstream smoke, and the higher concentration of toxins in sidestream smoke is due to its incomplete combustion. Secondhand smoke is comprised mostly of the more toxic sidestream smoke, and to a lesser extent, the less toxic mainstream smoke. This is key to understanding why secondhand smoke is so bad for you.


But now the message is even more grim.

Quoting from the FDA's report published on November 30, 2016, the UK's Daily Mail reports:

"'Smoking’s not only harmful to people; it’s harmful to pets, too,' said FDA veterinarian Carmela Stamper. 'If 58 million non-smoking adults and children are exposed to tobacco smoke, imagine how many pets are exposed at the same time.'"

What’s lingering on your rug, furniture and clothes?

Both secondhand smoke (which lingers in the air your animal breathes in) and third-hand smoke hurt pets. What’s third-hand smoke? It’s residue (harmful compounds that are left behind, such as nicotine) that can get on skin and clothes, as well as on furniture, carpets and other things where a smoker lives.

“Like children, dogs and cats spend a lot of time on or near the floor, where tobacco smoke residue concentrates in house dust, carpets and rugs. Then, it gets on their fur,” Stamper explains. “Dogs, cats and children not only breathe these harmful substances in, but pets can also ingest them by licking their owner’s hair, skin, and clothes.” And of course, if your dog or cat grooms itself or another animal, they're ingesting the residues as well, Stamper says.

Daily Mail further elucidates on the risks for pets:

Feline risks

Exposure to third-hand smoke brings health problems to cats due to their habit of vigorously licking their fur, which in a smoking environment is laden with carcinogens. This can double a cat's chance of developing lymphoma, a major cause of death in cats. Those cats living in smoking households have a four-fold increased risk of developing an aggressive oral cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Canine risks

Dog breeds with large noses tend to filter toxins from tobacco smoke which protects them from lung cancer, but conversely promotes nasal cancers. Dogs with smaller noses filter less carcinogens there, and thus have a higher risk of lung cancer.

Even your fish are at risk

The inhabitants of your aquarium are also endangered by smoking, as nicotine easily dissolves in water and is a potent poison.


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