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With all the information that’s out there on the dangers of smoking, it sometimes drives me crazy to see people light up. As it turns out, a new study suggests it could be having an even bigger emotional impact on me than I realized.
It’s no secret that secondhand smoke is a public health hazard. According to the National Cancer Institute, being exposed to someone else’s cigarette habit can cause everything from lung cancer and heart disease to sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections and asthma attacks. However, new research suggests that secondhand smoke may do more than tarnish your lungs—it could blacken your mood as well. According to a study being published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, even low levels of secondhand smoke is associated with a higher risk of depression, mood swings, schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions.
It’s important to point out that this study shows only a connection between secondhand smoke and depression—it doesn’t prove cause and effect. Some researchers have observed that people who are more prone to psychological problems may find themselves in smoke-filled environments more often than people without emotional issues. For instance, people with mental illness are more likely to smoke. Mental illness also runs in families. So if you grow up with a depressed parent who smoked, then, sure, you’ve been exposed to years of secondhand smoke, but it could be their genes and not the cigarette smoke that predisposes you to mental illness later in life.
However, experts speculate that it’s more complicated than that. After all, past research does suggest that smoking can lead to depression. Smokers have twice the risk of depression as nonsmokers, and studies in animals have shown that, when administered in high doses, tobacco causes sadness, bad moods and depression.
Though more studies are needed to determine why secondhand smoke is linked to emotional distress, researchers speculate that secondhand smoke may disrupt hormones and chemicals, like dopamine, that are responsible for regulating mood.
An estimated 60 percent of American nonsmokers have evidence of secondhand smoke exposure. Truthfully, I’m surprised it’s not higher. I can smell it in my apartment when my neighbor lights up, and I breathe it every time I step out onto the sidewalk. Of course, it could just be that secondhand smoke is harder to avoid in cities like New York, where you have to walk through swarms of people to get anywhere, and share a building that you call home with at least one other family.
Perhaps that’s why some cities like Berkeley, Calif., have banned smoking on all commercially zoned sidewalks, while Belmont, another city in the San Francisco Bay area, banned smoking inside apartments and condominiums. Given this study’s preliminary findings and the National Cancer Institute’s stance that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure, I can’t wait for the day when the rest of the country follows suit. There are, after all, smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes that, while not a cure-all, could at least allow people to enjoy tobacco without exposing others to their habit—and its hazards.
What do you think about the link between cigarettes and depression? Chime in below.