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Health Discovery: Secondhand Smoke

If somebody lights up in your presence, don’t hang around. As little as 30 minutes of inhaling secondhand smoke can damage your arteries, according to Christian Heiss, M.D., and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers studied healthy nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at levels common in public smoking areas. After half an hour, participants showed signs of damage in blood vessels, and the blood cells that normally repair such damage were impeded. The effects persisted for about 24 hours, confirming long-held suspicions that somebody else’s smoke wafting your way can be bad for your health. The same participants, tested on a separate smoke-free day, showed no similar ill effects.

The study, published in the May 6 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, says particulate matter and many chemicals, including nicotine, have “strong, persistent vascular consequences.”

“This is yet another demonstration of the deleterious effects of tobacco smoke, taken actively or passively,” says Ezra A. Amsterdam, M.D., professor and associate chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center. “This carefully done study simulating real-world conditions shows what happens in the blood with exposure to cigarette smoke.”

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