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Health Topics Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is dangerous to others because it contains more than 4,000 substances, several of which cause cancer in humans and animals.

There are two types of secondhand smoke. The first type of smoke is called mainstream smoke, which is the smoke that a smoker exhales. The second type of smoke is called sidestream smoke, the smoke that comes directly from the burning tobacco product such as a cigarette, pipe, or cigar. Secondhand smoke is also called involuntary or passive smoking, as well as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).

Children are most susceptible to secondhand smoke because they are continuously growing, and effects of secondhand smoke include impairments in learning and cognition, and even death.

Statistics of Secondhand Smoke

  • A person who is exposed to 8 hours of secondhand smoke inhales the same as 1 pack of cigarettes
  • Infants and young children whose parents smoke are the most affected by the exposure of secondhand smoke
  • Every year, 8,000 – 26,000 children will develop asthma because of a parent who smokes at least 10 cigarettes a day
  • Every year, 200,000 – 1,000,000 children will develop worse asthma due to secondhand smoke


What are some toxins found in secondhand smoke?

  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nicotine
  • Toluene
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Methane

What are some health effects of secondhand smoke?

  • Lung cancer
  • Increased risk of heart disease, including coronary heart disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack

What are some health risks of secondhand smoke for children?

  • Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited symptoms
  • Risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Low birth weight for pregnant women
  • Increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis
  • Increased risk for middle ear infections
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Chronic coughing, phlegm and wheezing, eye and nose irritation

Where is secondhand smoke a problem?

Secondhand smoke is a problem at the workplace. Secondhand smoke can be inhaled outside, and ventilation systems do not prevent secondhand smoke. Therefore, having smoke-free workplace policies are the only way to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure at work.

Exposure to secondhand smoke also occurs in public places. These places include shopping centers, restaurants, on public transportation, or schools. Public places where children go are a special area of concern, and thus limiting yourself to areas where secondhand smoke could be inhaled is the best solution.

You can also be exposed to secondhand smoke at home. People spend a large chunk of their time at home, and having a smoke-free home protects your family, guests, and pets.

Finally, secondhand smoke occurs in cars.

How can secondhand smoke be avoided?

  • Don’t allow smoking in your home
    • If family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside
    • Do not rely on an air conditioner or open window to clear and ventilate the air
    • Don’t allow smoking in your car
      • If a passenger must smoke on the road, stop at a rest stop for a smoke break
      • Choose to go to smoke-free care and service facilities
    • Choose a child care provider that is smoke-free for your children.
    • Choose smoke-free long term care facilities for your elderly family members
  • Keep your distance from smokers

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