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.
What is thirdhand smoke?
Thirdhand smoke exposure is a new concept; it is exposure to many of the toxic agents in smoke that have accumulated (as residue) in clothing, drapes, rugs, furniture, dust, and other items due to secondhand smoke. The toxic agents, deposited in and on items from secondhand smoke, can be absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes of non-smokers, especially by infants and young children. Prevention of secondhand smoke exposure can prevent thirdhand smoke exposure.
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 recreational settings.
Does secondhand smoke cause lung cancer?
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 of developing lung cancer when compared with nonsmokers who do not reside with a smoker.
Does secondhand smoke cause other lung diseases?
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.
Does secondhand smoke cause cardiovascular disease?
Does secondhand smoke cause breast cancer?
The question of whether or not passive smoking is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer is currently a source of both investigation and controversy. Breast cancer risk in active smokers is not known to be increased, yet some studies have found a possible link to breast cancer with exposure to passive smoke. In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General's report concluded that there is "suggestive but not sufficient" evidence of a link at this point.
How does secondhand smoke affect children?
In addition to the risk of pneumonia and respiratory infections in babies exposed to secondhand smoke (see above), passive smoke is known to increase the severity of asthma in children with this condition. Middle ear infections in children also occur as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
What are the effects of secondhand smoke on pregnant women?
Like women who smoke, pregnant women who are exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of having low-birthweight babies.
Is there a safe level of secondhand smoke?
While, logically, more extensive or prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with the greatest risk of having medical problems as a result, no safe limit for exposure to secondhand smoke has been established. Even low levels of secondhand smoke can be harmful. This means that all exposure to secondhand smoke should be avoided whenever possible.
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.
What can be done about secondhand smoke exposure?
Local, state, and national governments have enacted a variety of laws designed to protect people from health dangers associated with secondhand smoke. These laws vary according to location. The American Lung Association has a listing of these regulations grouped by U.S. state (see References below). 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.
Quitting smoking if you are a smoker is the best way to protect your family and friends from secondhand smoke. Several support systems, programs, and even prescription medications are available to help smokers break the habit.
If you are a non-smoker, the safest way to avoid passive smoke is not to allow others to smoke in your home. This is particularly important if there are children in your home. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, smoke-free workplaces are the only way to protect people from exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace, since separate smoking areas, cleaning the air, and ventilating the building is not sufficient to prevent exposure if people still are permitted to smoke inside the building.
American Cancer Society. "Secondhand Smoke."
American Lung Association. "Smoking restrictions in U.S. States."
National Cancer Institute. "Secondhand Smoke."
Sleiman, M., Gundel, L., Pankow, J., et al. "Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface-mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential thirdhand smoke hazards." PNAS; doi:10.1073/pnas.0912820107
Top Secondhand Smoke Related Articles
Acute BronchitisBronchitis is inflammation of the airways in the lung. Acute bronchitis is short in duration (10-20 days) in comparison with chronic bronchitis, which lasts for months to years. Causes of acute bronchitis include viruses and bacteria, which means it can be contagious. Acute bronchitis caused by environmental factors such as pollution or cigarette smoke is not contagious. Common symptoms for acute bronchitis include nasal congestion, cough, headache, sore throat, muscle aches, and fatigue. Acute bronchitis in children also my include runny nose, fever, and chest pain. Treatment for acute bronchitis are OTC pain relievers, cough suppressants (although not recommended in children), and rest. Infrequently antibiotics may be prescribed to treat acute bronchitis.
Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)A middle ear infection (otitis media) can cause earache, temporary hearing loss, and pus drainage from the ear. It is most common in babies, toddlers, and young children. Learn about causes and treatment.
Ear TubesWhen a child has repeated middle ear infections or fluid build-up in the ears, which causes problems with speech or hearing, surgery to place tubes inside the ear is often recommended. The surgery is called myringotomy. Preparing your child for this procedure will help comfort them, and knowing what to expect before, during, and after surgery is important as well.
Ectopic Pregnancy (Tubal Pregnancy)
An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy located outside the inner lining of the uterus. The majority of ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tube. Signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may include abdominal pain, lack of menstrual period (amenorrhea), vaginal bleeding, fainting, dizziness, and low blood pressure.
Treatment options for an ectopic pregnancy include observation, medication, or surgery.
Heart Disease: Warning Signs of Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease (coronary artery disease) occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Heart disease can lead to heart attack. Risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
Angina, shortness of breath, and sweating are just a few symptoms that may indicate a heart attack. Treatment of heart disease involves control of heart disease risk factors through lifestyle changes, medications, and/or stenting or bypass surgery. Heart disease can be prevented by controlling heart disease risk factors.
Cough: 19 Tips on How to Stop a CoughCoughing is a reflex that helps a person clear their airways of irritants. There are many causes of an excessive or severe cough including irritants like cigarette and secondhand smoke, pollution, air fresheners, medications like beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, the common cold, GERD, lung cancer, and heart disease.Natural and home remedies to help cure and soothe a cough include staying hydrated, gargle salt water, use cough drops or lozenges, use herbs and supplements like ginger, mint, licorice, and slippery elm, and don't smoke. Over-the-counter products (OTC)to cure and soothe a cough include cough suppressants and expectorants, and anti-reflux drugs. Prescription drugs that help cure a cough include narcotic medications, antibiotics, inhaled steroids, and anti-reflux drugs like proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, for example, omeprazole (Prilosec), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix).
Is It OK to Smoke Before a Blood Test?Smoking can affect your blood test results. So if you have been asked to fast before your blood test, you should avoid smoking as well. Other things to avoid before the test include chewing gum, exercising and drinking alcohol.
Lung Cancer SlideshowLearn about lung cancer early warning signs, symptoms and treatments. What causes stage IV lung cancer? Get more information on small cell lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, and the diagnosis of lung cancer stages.
Lungs PictureThe lungs are a pair of spongy, air-filled organs located on either side of the chest (thorax). See a picture of the Lungs and learn more about the health topic.
PneumoniaPneumonia is inflammation of the lungs caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Symptoms and signs include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and chills. Antibiotics treat pneumonia, and the choice of the antibiotic depends upon the cause of the infection.
How to Quit Smoking: 13 Tips to End AddictionQuitting smoking is a great way to improve your health. Learn tips and techniques to quit smoking and kick the cigarette habit for good. Learn about smoking cessation products, benefits, medications and other tools.
Smoking & Your LooksCigarette smoking can affect your looks and moods. But did you know smoking also affects your heart, causes wrinkles, and increases your risk of cancer? Learn the dangers of smoking.
Smoking QuizYou know it's time you quit smoking. Learn the myths and facts about quitting smoking with the Smoking Quiz. When it comes to smoking, quitters always win!
Smoking: See What Happens to Your Body When You QuitYou know that smoking is bad for your health. But did you know that your health starts to improve within a half hour of quitting? And it typically improves more with every passing day, month, and year.
Sore throat (throat pain) usually is described as pain or discomfort in the throat area. A sore throat may be caused by bacterial infections, viral infections, toxins, irritants, trauma, or injury to the throat area. Common symptoms of a sore throat include a fever, cough, runny nose, hoarseness, earaches, sneezing, and body aches. Home remedies for a sore throat include warm soothing liquids and throat lozenges. OTC remedies for a sore throat include OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Antibiotics may be necessary for some cases of sore throat.
Sore Throat Home RemediesNatural and home remedies for sore throat symptoms and pain relief include essential oils, licorice gargles, slippery elm leaves, raw garlic, Throat Coat tea, sage, and acupuncture. Typical symptoms of a sore throat include throat pain, coughing, sneezing, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Sore throats are caused by viral (common cold, flu, mumps), bacterial (tonsillitis, some STDs), toxins, allergens, trauma or injury, or "mechanical causes" (breathing through the mouth).