When you breathe secondhand smoke, it’s “like you are smoking,” according to Surgeon General. 2.5 million people have died in the U.S. from secondhand smoke exposure since 1964. (Photo: Getty Images)
The dangers of secondhand smoke have been studied for years, and research concludes the same thing: it’s definitely bad for you.
Now, new research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine has found a consistent link between secondhand smoke and the risk of stroke.
The study, which analyzed data from more than 20,000 nonsmokers aged 45 and up, found that those who were exposed to secondhand smoke were 30 percent more likely to suffer a stroke within six years.
And, here’s a noteworthy additional finding: Researchers discovered that study participants who were exposed to secondhand smoke were more likely to live with a smoker — and be female.
While the study’s authors tell Yahoo Health the finding could simply be due to sampling, psychologists say they’re not shocked.
Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD, tells Yahoo Health that women can have difficulty speaking up when their needs are in conflict with those of someone they love, as is often the case when smokers and non-smokers live together. “Women are nurturers by nature, and this tendency likely influences how women navigate conflict,” she says.
As a result, she says, a woman may be more likely to avoid the inevitable conflict that can come with raising an objection to her partner’s smoking habit.
Atlanta-based psychologist and relationship therapist Jared DeFife, PhD, agrees, adding that the study may reflect a gender difference in how men and women handle assertion, boundaries, and limit setting in their relationships.
While DeFife tells Yahoo Health that it’s important to set boundaries and ground rules in relationships — especially when it comes to your own health — he acknowledges that a partner’s smoking habit can be a tricky problem to navigate: “When you have a partner who smokes and you want them to stop, you can be in a real bind.”
But it’s worth speaking up. According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million people have died in the U.S. from secondhand smoke exposure since 1964. The Surgeon General also notes that, when you breathe secondhand smoke, it’s “like you are smoking.”
All secondhand smoke isn’t created equal, and the American Cancer Society breaks it into two categories: sidestream smoke (smoke from the lit end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar) and mainstream smoke (smoke exhaled by a smoker). Sidestream smoke has higher concentrations of carcinogens, is more toxic than mainstream smoke, and has smaller particles that can make their way into your lungs and cells more easily — and people who live with a smoker are repeatedly exposed to both.
Secondhand smoke exposure doesn’t just raise a person’s risk of stroke. A report published in the journal Circulationconcluded that the negative effects on the heart from exposure to secondhand smoke are nearly as bad as the effects on those who actually smoke.
People exposed to secondhand smoke may also be at risk of developing cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke exposure caused more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year between 2005 and 2009 among adult non-smokers.
Secondhand smoke is also linked to marital issues: DeFife points to research that has found a partner’s smoking habit is a “significant predictor” of later divorce.
Luckily, overall secondhand smoke exposure is on the decline. CDC data found that, during 2011 to 2012, only 25 percent of nonsmokers had measurable levels of the tobacco smoke biomarker cotinine in their blood, compared to 40 percent during 2007 to 2008.
DeFife says secondhand smoke may also be becoming less of an issue for younger women: “Younger adults today appear to be less tolerant of dating, living with, or eventually marrying a partner who smokes.” Those who actually are in a relationship with a smoker are more likely to relegate them to a smoking area outside, protecting their own health in the process, he says.
Bottom line: If you live with a smoker and are exposed to secondhand smoke, you need to speak up. Your health depends on it.
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