Secondhand Smoke

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

View How Smoking Affects Your Looks and Life Slideshow Pictures
Secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, other lung diseases, SIDS, and heart disease.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand Smoke Dangers

Secondhand smoke has many health risks for non-smokers including:

  • lung cancer,
  • heart disease,
  • lung diseases (chronic cough, lung infections),
  • asthma in children,
  • middle ear infections,
  • SIDS, and
  • an increased risk of having a low-birthweight baby among pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Quick GuideEffects of Secondhand Smoke: Facts

Effects of Secondhand Smoke: Facts

Secondhand smoke facts

  • Secondhand smoke refers to tobacco smoke that is passively breathed in by people in the vicinity of a person who is smoking.
  • Secondhand smoke causes significant health problems, including cancer.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke, experiencing an increase in lung infections, bronchitis, worsening ofasthma, and increased risk for SIDS.
  • Legislation to prevent smoking in workplaces and public buildings is on the rise as the public becomes more informed about the risks of secondhand smoke.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke refers to tobacco smoke that is passively breathed in by people in the vicinity of a person who is smoking. Terms that have been used to refer to secondhand smoke are passive smoking, involuntary smoking, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke from the tobacco product itself (termed sidestream smoke) and exhaled smoke from the smoker (known as mainstream smoke).

When a nonsmoker inhales secondhand smoke, he or she is exposed to the same toxins and chemicals, including nicotine, as the smoker.

Exposure of children to secondhand smoke also increases their health risks; and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental tobacco smoke. Even children who do not live with smokers may be at risk for adverse effects of secondhand smoke. Chemicals from tobacco smoke inhaled by a nursing mother are also known to reach breast milk.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/15/2016

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