We all know that secondhand smoke poses a risk to your health. But new science suggests that even temporary exposure to secondhand smoke can have serious potential health consequences, especially in men. Even in very limited quantities, tobacco smoke appears to increase your risk of gaining unhealthy weight, as well as cancer, cardiovascular disease and all the maladies we typically associate with being a primary smoker.
The new study, conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, used biometric data collected from a Pennsylvania Amish community as a control. Since the Amish lead a pastoral life, they are typically not exposed at a high level to the kinds of lifestyle, socioeconomic and environmental variables that can impact the health of “the English,” as the Amish call outsiders.
The study found that, unsurprisingly, being a smoker damaged heart health, lung health, cholesterol levels and body mass index. They also found, more significantly, that being exposed to secondhand smoke from friends or family members suffered similar health risks.
The men who were exposed to secondhand smoke had, on average, higher body mass indexes and blood sugar levels than those who weren’t. We typically associate secondhand smoke exposure with increased risk of lung dysfunction or cancer, but not weight-related maladies such as diabetes.
Obviously, the less you’re exposed to secondhand smoke, the less health risk you suffer. But even small exposures can elevate your risk profile. Hanging out with a smoker friend during a smoke break isn’t the same thing as living with a smoker, but it’s still bad for you.
E. Albert Reece, the dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a press release about the study: “The fact that small amounts of exposure caused significant impact among Amish non-smokers, a population in which smoking is already at low levels, should be of concern to populations where smoking is much more prevalent.”
The study also suggests that cigar and pipe tobacco smoke is more harmful to inhale second hand than cigarette smoke.
So if you’re the kind of person who likes to occasionally unwind with a cigar or a pipe, or has friends who do, you might be wise to take note of this study’s findings. Smoking is a cherished ritual for many people, but its costs may outweigh the benefits. Especially if you’re not even the one smoking in the first place. The study’s findings aren’t conclusive, but they’re significant enough to give us pause.