Stamping out smokes

National Non-Smoking Week began Jan. 18th and Alberta Health Services (AHS) is encouraging Albertans to keep their homes and vehicles smoke-free.

Of course, this isn’t a new message and over the past several years we’ve seen the elimination of smoking in most public establishments. Many people don’t even smoke in their own homes or vehicles anymore – the anti-smoking tidal wave faced little resistance and it’s almost unimaginable how pervasive smoking in public places once was not that long ago.

So while recognizing that the majority of Albertans do take action to prevent and reduce tobacco use, AHS’ National Non-Smoking Week (NNSW) efforts – which feature Albertans making smoke-free choices – serve to further normalize the choice to be tobacco-free, emphasizing the importance of smoke-free homes and vehicles.

According to an AHS press release, 7,000 chemicals, including 69 known to cause cancer, are contained in tobacco smoke. And obviously, environments that are not smoke-free expose people to these chemicals via second-hand smoke. Unfortunately, many don’t have a choice but to breathe it in – infants and young children are particularly at risk from the toxins in this smoke because their bodies are developing.

“While the majority of Albertans do choose smoke-free environments, unfortunately, the minority of Albertans who don’t choose to keep their environment smoke free remain at very real risk of consequences,” says Dr. Ifeoma Achebe, Central Zone Medical Officer of Health. “Second-hand smoke can cause serious respiratory infections, like bronchitis and pneumonia. It can also result in more frequent ear infections and increased respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, which can make asthma attacks more severe.”

Infants and children are also very sensitive to third-hand smoke exposure, which builds up on surfaces in a home or vehicle, including furniture, clothing, drapes and carpets, where it can last for months.

Achebe pointed out that infants and young children breathe near, crawl on, play on, touch, and even taste these surfaces, not knowing that they’re contaminated with third-hand smoke. And just clearing the air temporarily doesn’t cut it. She noted that opening windows may get rid of the smell but it won’t remove the chemicals from the air or from surfaces.

In addition to the health risks associated with second- and third-hand smoke exposure, there is also potential concern related to the vapour from e-cigarettes. While more research is needed into the safety of e-cigarettes, some research has already found toxins contained in the vapour produced by some e-cigarettes. These toxins can increase the risks of inflammation and constriction in the lungs and airways. Hopefully, those who made a New Year’s resolution to stamp out smoking can find success in their efforts to just quit altogether.

To that end, AHS’ Tobacco Reduction Program has resources available at

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