#HEALTH: More non-smokers getting lung cancer

THE long-term impact of smoking has been well-documented in various studies throughout the decades.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) and those exposed can contract various lung-related diseases, including serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, which prematurely killing over 1.3 million people every year. In addition, there is also a lesser-known facet of smoking — third-hand smoke (THS).

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, THS refers to tobacco contamination residue left on surfaces of objects and its surroundings after a cigarette has been extinguished, most notably in indoor settings such as offices, homes and confined spaces.

Sunway Medical Centre consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Anand Sachithanandan, says lung cancer is no longer a male smoker's disease. Many new cases now involve non-smokers, predominantly women, who may be victims of chronic SHS exposure.

SHS is an ongoing public health issue affecting mainly women and children.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 77.6 per cent of Malaysians surveyed reported exposure to SHS in eateries.

"SHS or passive smoking is the inadvertent inhalation of tobacco smoke by individuals other than active smokers. SHS exposure occurs when we breathe in smoke exhaled by smokers or from burning tobacco products," explains Dr Anand, the founding president of the Lung Cancer Network Malaysia.

With regards to THS, if left unattended, the surrounding environment may become progressively more toxic over time, he adds.

Many cases of lung cancer in non-smokers may be attributable to exposure to SHS, THS or air pollution.

Long-term cumulative exposure to cigarette smoke, be it smoke exhaled by a smoker or the unfiltered sidestream smoke from a lit cigarette, is a significant risk factor for developing lung cancer in genetically susceptible individuals, says Dr Anand.

Apart from lung cancer, SHS and THS also contribute towards other respiratory conditions, including exacerbation of asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as it damages the elasticity of lung tissue and can irritate the airways causing inflammation.

Furthermore, smoking is a well established risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, like coronary artery disease and stroke, impairs our immune system and causes premature ageing.

"Children and adolescents are more susceptible to the perils of SHS and THS due to their less robust, developing immune system."

Exposure at home, in common spaces such as eateries or the workplace, and especially in vehicles can further heighten the likelihood of contracting respiratory-diseases in the long run.


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