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the Passive Smoker
Health agencies and the private sector having become very active
in the study and control of environmental tobacco smoke. Despite
increasing the number of restrictions on smoking in public buildings
and transportation, healthcare institutions, hotels and restaurants,
a major health concern also relates to exposure to environmental
tobacco smoke in the home, especially for infants and children.
When regulatory agencies and public measures to control environmental
tobacco smoke fail, preventative modalities and therapeutic maneuvers
need supervene to protect the innocent non-smoker, recognized today
as “passive” or “secondary” smoker. Particularly
vulnerable are infants and children where environmental tobacco
smoke has been linked to increased risks of low birth weight babies,
sudden infant death syndrome, bronchitis and pneumonia and a cause
of asthma with complicated repeated asthmatic attacks.
Various epidemiologic studies have issued the alert that passive
smokers are indeed at a higher risk than non-smokers for tobacco
associated diseases, particularly from the so-called “side
stream” smoke which emanates from cigarettes between puffs
by the smokers. The primary smoker is also markedly afflicted by
“mainstream” smoke, which he or she inhales with each
puff. A recent epidemiologic study on passive smokers showed the
risk for coronary heart disease in women who had never smoked was
doubled compared to non-smokers. Similar claims have been launched
by airline stewardesses. Studies in Chinese women also revealed
a risk for coronary heart disease in those exposed to environmental
tobacco smoke at work. More recently, these clinicians showed that
there were a greater number of narrow coronary arteries for lifelong
non-smoking wives from exposure to their husband’s smoking.
Investigators at the University of Nevada evaluated the stress
created by the pervasive contaminant environmental tobacco smoke
in the workplace. They measured blood levels of various antioxidants
and a “guanosine” molecule as a marker of DNA damage
to cells. The level of this reflector of free radicals in the subjects
exposed to environmental tobacco was more than 60 percent higher
than in non-exposed control individuals. Subsequently, these workers
were started on a nutritional supplement of vitamins C and E, Beta
carotene, zinc, selenium and copper for 60 days and the laboratory
studies were then repeated. There was evidence that fewer free radicals
were generated now by environmental tobacco smoke exposure, since
damage to cell membranes (lipid peroxidation) and the levels of
the “guanosine” marker of DNA damage were marked diminished.
The levels of the antioxidants in blood were now also lower. The
researchers concluded that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke
in the workplace increases oxidative stress, accounting for the
increased risks of tobacco related diseases noted in secondary smokers.
They also showed that supplementation with antioxidants, including
selenium, provided some degree of protection to these secondary
How can we protect the passive smoker? The easy answers are obvious:
Smoking cessation by individuals or institution by law of tobacco
prohibition. Neither seem viable alternatives. Then, realistically
what is the passive smoker to do?
Tobacco smoke generates toxic oxygen and other free radical species,
which damage cells, interfere with metabolic processes and cause
“breaks” in DNA, which may result in mutations and malignancies.
The body has a well developed antioxidant system to scavenge and
neutralize the injurious free radicals generated by tobacco smoke
and other environmental pollutants. It is known that smokers have
low blood levels of antioxidants, including vitamin C and L-glutathione,
the body’s most important antioxidant.
Nutritionists have long advised us on a diet high in fruits and
vegetables to keep us healthier and younger. Eating fruits and vegetables
naturally also tends to lower our intakes of meats, fats and cholesterol,
the modern villains of nutritionally induced diseases. The former
foodstuffs are well known to contain potent antioxidants including
phytochemicals and ascorbic acid. Some have unique molecules such
as bio-flavonoids like lycopene in tomatoes and proanthocyanidins
But the real winner, we think, is the body’s best-kept secret,
the ubiquitous antioxidant L-glutathione. This sulfur containing
tripeptide is the gatekeeper antioxidant in body fluids and in each
and every cell. Dr. Dean P. Jones at Emory University has shown
that fruits and vegetables contain high concentrations of L-glutathione.
A diet high in fresh fruits also has been shown to help improve
lung function in children with asthma. Oral consumption of L-glutathione,
teleologically provides the body with its best antioxidant defense.
L-glutathione however, also needs other enzymes and vitamins C and
E to work together for the cell’s defense against the free
radicals generated in the passive smoker by environmental tobacco
smoke and other pollutants.
While science continues to study the value of L-glutathione, unprotected
non-smokers may be helped by consuming foods rich in L-glutathione,
like fruits and vegetables. In addition, the passive smoker may
also take orally a complete complex of antioxidants to replenish
body stores. They may also locally spray and chew tablets with these
antioxidants for beneficial and protective effects to the oro-pharynx,
the gateway to tobacco smoke. In the meantime, let us not decrease
campaigns for reducing environmental tobacco smoke and smoking cessation
programs, drugs or devices for the tobacco smoker. Passive smokers
beware! Until the primary smoker stops his/her tobacco habits, chew,
swallow, and spray with your antioxidants and vitamins.
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