What is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that include -
- Smoke from a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe tip
- Smoke that has been exhaled or breathed out by the person or people smoking
- More than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer.
Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in homes and workplaces. Secondhand smoke exposure also
continues to occur in public places such as restaurants, bars, and casinos and in private vehicles.
Health Effects - Children
In children, secondhand smoke causes:
- ear infections
- more frequent and severe asthma attacks
- respiratory symptoms
- respiratory infections
- a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome
In children aged 18 months or younger, secondhand smoke
exposure is responsible for:
and pneumonia annually
- an estimated 150,000 - 300,000 new cases of bronchitis
- approximately 7,500 - 15,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States
Health Effect - Adults
In adults who have never smoked, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and/or lung cancer.
system that can increase the risk for heart attack. People who already have heart disease are at high
- For nonsmokers, breathing secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the cardiovascular
heart disease risk by 25-30%.
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their
adult nonsmokers in the United States.
- Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths annually among
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their lung cancer risk
nonsmokers in the United States.
- Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths annually among adult
There is no risk-free level of contact with secondhand smoke; even brief
exposure can be harmful to health.
The 2006 US Surgeon General's report reached some important conclusions:
- Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
- Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma. Smoking by parents causes
breathing (respiratory) symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.
- Secondhand smoke immediately affects the heart and blood circulation in a harmful way. Over a longer
time it also causes heart disease and lung cancer.
- The scientific evidence shows that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their
homes and workplaces despite a great deal of progress in tobacco control.
- The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke indoors is to prevent all
smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and
ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke.
What can be done about secondhand smoke?
Local, state, and federal authorities can enact public policies to protect people from secondhand smoke and
protect children from tobacco-caused diseases and addiction. Because there are no safe levels of secondhand
smoke, it is important that any such policies be as strong as possible, and that they do not prevent action at other
levels of government.
To learn how you can become involved in helping to promote laws to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, you
can visit the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network on the Web at acscan.org and see what's
happening across the country. The Web site can also take you to your state's page so you can find out what is
going on there. Or you can call ACS CAN at 1-888-NOW I CAN (1-888-669-4226).
Steps for Avoiding Smoke
Avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke can protect your health and that of your children, family and friends.
Know the Risks
- Secondhand smoke is a very serious health threat.
- Passive smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States today.
- Smoke is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.
Special Risks for Children
- Exposure to passive smoke can cause asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Children with colds, flu, asthma or other illnesses can be made more ill by smoke.
- Children can be burned by falling ashes or lighted cigarettes.
- Passive smoke is also linked to miscarriages, low birthweight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Health Protect the Children in Your Life
- Insist on nonsmoking daycare.
- Set up a smoke-free home
Talk with Smokers
Talk with smokers in your life. Agree together on ways to deal with secondhand smoke. Remember, you have a
right to speak up, and very good reasons for doing so!
A Good Approach
Most smokers want to quit, but smoking is a hard addiction to break. If you approach smokers in a spirit of
collaboration, chances are better than some agreement can be worked out.
When you talk with smokers:
- Let them know how you care about their comfort and health, and that you believe they also care about
- Avoid being critical or judgmental about their smoking.
- Invite them to work with you in coming up with a fair solution.
- Listen carefully when they respond. Ask them about their ideas.
- Try a little give-and-take. For example, if you want to set up a smoke-free home, and your spouse is willing
to limit smoking to one room, this might be a good compromise.
- Leave the door open for more discussions if you don’t come to an agreement at first.
- Be available to support a smoker in quitting if he or she asks for your help.
You Can Practice
If you’re not sure how to bring up this issue with the smokers in your life, you can practice beforehand.
Some things to try:
- Make a list of your reasons for talking to the smoker, and mark a star next to the most important.
- Have an imaginary conversation with the smoker to work out what you will say.
- Talk to a friend and ask for suggestions or ideas.
- Have somebody “role play” with you while you practice.
- Talk to someone you know who smokes and ask for his or her advice.
If a Smoker Lives in the Home...
- Ask the person to smoke outside.
- Set up one “smoking area” in the home (a room with a door that can be closed).
- Keep windows open and air the home frequently.
- Ask them to smoke outside provide ashtrays on porch or deck.
- Remove ashtrays from the home.
- Make your own car a smoke-free space.
- In other people’s cars, ask that people not smoke.
- Keep windows open if someone is smoking.
American Heart Association, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Cancer Society (ACS),
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.