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April 17, 2014

The Joy of Second Hand Smoke: Irreversible Damage to Kids’ Arteries

One of my best memories growing up was taking a family vacation to the New England states when I was nine years old. It was 1969. A family of five made the trek from the Cleveland area in a white VW Beetle luggage stowed somehow in the small trunk. We stopped in Utica, New York to watch the lift off of Apollo 11 which was  first manned landing on the moon. Then we made our way to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Eventually we made our way to Plymouth Rock and then on to Hyannis Port – arriving the day after the Chappaquiddick incident finding ourselves unable to get close to the Kennedy compound that my mom desperately wanted to see.

The Joy of Second Hand Smoke

But for me the “real” highlight and the real joy was spending all that time in the car with two parents who were 2 pack a day smokers inhaling all the second hand smoke for hours at a time. Not fun! All this in a car without AC and with the windows largely rolled up on the highways except for the small side vents. The car must have looked like a cloud traveling down the highway. At some point in the trip I know longer noticed the smell and the eyes stopped burning. But getting fresh air was a welcomed relief – maybe one reason I like being outdoors a lot.

Now it looks like exposure to second hand smoke during childhood leads to irreversible damage to the arteries. So if I keel over from a heart attack or stroke out anytime soon you know who to blame.

It’s estimated that 6 million people die each year the result of their own smoking, but another 600,000 deaths are attributed to second hand smoke. At least 250 chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to be harmful with more than 50 known to cause cancer.

A study published in European Heart Journal followed nearly 3,800 people from childhood to adulthood and measure carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) – the innermost layers of arterial walls. Thicker walls are more unhealthy. Offspring of smoking parents had higher IMT scores (thicker intima-media layers) then offspring of nonsmokers. Higher IMT scores raises the risk of heart attacks and stroke. The net effect of this second-hand smoke is the adding of 3.3 years to the age of blood vessels. And, you are only as young as your blood vessels. So it looks like I’m older than my birth certificate says – time for those senior discounts.

In How to Age Faster and Die Younger we discussed how many years of life we lose due to stress, smoking, obesity and TV viewing. It’s pretty easy to die young if you want to.

To live longer, though, don’t smoke and avoid being around it as much as possible. There are now laws in the US, Australia, and Canada that ban smoking in cars toting children – a little late for me, but some of us had to be the guinea pigs. Right?

PS. Actually the real highlight of that trip for me was playing catch on the beach at Old Orchard Beach, Maine with a complete stranger. He turned out to be Mel Didier. He became the scouting director for the Montreal Expos in 1970. The Expos were an expansion franchise in the National League in 1969. Mr. Didier played some minor league ball and my dad had played some  minor league ball as well. They swapped baseball stories on the beach and stayed in touch after that vacation. Though I wasn’t “old enough” I was “permitted” to attend an Expos’ tryout in 1974.  In 1972 Mr. Didier co-authored a book called Power Baseball and mailed us an autographed copy which I still have today. Pretty cool and worth all the second hand smoke – at least so far!IMG_1247

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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