The news: If the coughing and stench weren't enough to make you avoid the smoking section, here's another reason: It can make you fat.
Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah wondered how constant smokers can keep the pounds off while those exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely get plumper. A huge number of people are affected, too, considering half of the U.S. population is exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke once a day.
"For people who are in a home with a smoker, particularly children, the increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic problems is massive," said lead author professor Benjamin Bikman, Science Daily reported.
The study: Bikman and his colleagues conducted the study to see how cigarette smoke is connected to metabolism and why regular smokers become resistant to insulin, which causes weight gain. They exposed lab mice to secondhand smoke and closely tracked their metabolic progression.
The mice quickly packed on the pounds. On a cellular level, the smoke sparked a lipid called ceramide to alter mitochondria in the cells, which caused "disruption to normal cell function and inhibiting the cells' ability to respond to insulin."
"Once someone becomes insulin resistant, their body needs more insulin. And any time you have insulin go up, you have fat being made in the body," BYU researcher Paul Reynolds told the journal.
Reversing the effects. There is a solution, besides not inhaling. Researchers said the key to reversing the effects is to inhibit ceramide. They treated some mice with a ceramide blocker called myriocin, which worked in keeping the pounds off when being exposed to smoke.
There's a caveat. "However, when the smoke-exposed mice were also fed a high-sugar diet, the metabolic disruption could not be fixed," the journal said.
They are working on creating a human-safe ceramide inhibitor to help people who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, such as children living at home or people working in environments where smoking is still allowed.
Of course, Bikman offered another solution if smokers don't want to harm their loved ones. "They just have to quit," he said. "Perhaps our research can provide added motivation as they learn about the additional harmful effects to loved ones."