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.

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Quick GuideEffects of Secondhand Smoke: Facts

Effects of Secondhand Smoke: Facts

What causes secondhand smoke?

Cigarettes are the most common sources of secondhand smoke, followed by cigars and pipe smoke. People can be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke anywhere - in their homes, in the workplace, and in recreational settings.

What are the health risks of secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke carries many health risks. At least 250 harmful chemicals have been identified in secondhand smoke, including at least 50 carcinogens (chemicals that are known to cause cancer). Just some of the dangerous chemicals present in secondhand smoke include vinyl chloride, cadmium, benzene, arsenic, and ethylene oxide.

Secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer. It has been classified as a "known human carcinogen" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is also associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as other serious health conditions; several are listed below.

Lung cancer and secondhand smoke

Passive smoking is an established risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Research has shown that nonsmokers who reside with a smoker have an increased risk for developing lung cancer when compared with nonsmokers who do not reside with a smoker.

Cardiovascular disease and secondhand smoke

Like cigarette smoking itself, secondhand smoke is a significant risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

Other lung diseases and secondhand smoke

Coughing, chest congestion, and decreased lung function can also occur in those exposed to passive smoke. Babies exposed to secondhand smoke can also develop serious respiratory infections. Passive smoking is believed to cause lung infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in children younger than 18 months of age each year.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/15/2016

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