When she thinks about the danger of secondhand smoke, Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew of University Hospitals remembers her friend who was diagnosed with lung cancer in her 40s even though she had never smoked. The friend worked as a flight attendant at a time when smoking was allowed on airplanes. She constantly breathed toxin-laden tobacco smoke. For Larkins-Pettigrew, that story illustrates the dangers of secondhand smoke. The past three decades have seen a drop in the number of nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke, but those numbers are no longer declining, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 58 million American nonsmokers – or 1 in 4 – were exposed to secondhand smoke from 2013–2014, the CDC said. Toxins found in tobacco smoke are connected to a long list of health problems. In adults, secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease and accounts for at least 35,000 deaths in the United States each year. Infants are at risk of sudden infant death syndrome; children who breathe cigarette smoke can develop respiratory and ear infections, and asthma. Secondhand smoke can affect fetal development when moms are exposed to second-hand smoke.
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