Secondhand Smoke

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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.

Secondhand Smoke Pictures Slideshow: The Dangers and Effects

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 5/1/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Secondhand Smoke - Experience Question: Please share your experience with secondhand smoke.
Secondhand Smoke - Lung Diseases Question: Do you have a lung disease related to secondhand smoke? Please discuss your symptoms and experience.
Secondhand Smoke - What to do Question: If you are a non-smoker, in what ways have you limited exposure to secondhand smoke?
Secondhand Smoke - Thirdhand Smoke Question: If you understand the concept of thirdhand smoke, describe how you've dealt with the accumulation.
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.