How risky is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke causes or contributes to serious health problems, including:
- Cancer. Secondhand smoke is a known risk factor for lung cancer. In addition, secondhand smoke contains benzene — which increases the risk of leukemia.
- Heart disease. Secondhand smoke damages blood vessels and interferes with circulation, which increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Recent research suggests that secondhand smoke also increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.
- Lung disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke can aggravate respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Secondhand smoke poses additional risks for children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. Problems include:
- Low birth weight. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.
- Asthma and respiratory illness. Secondhand smoke increases the risk — and severity — of childhood asthma. Secondhand smoke also causes chronic coughing, phlegm and wheezing.
- Infections. Children who live with people who smoke are more likely to develop bronchitis and pneumonia.
While further study is needed, limited research suggests that electronic cigarettes also expose bystanders to significant concentrations of aerosolized nicotine.
How can secondhand smoke be avoided?
With planning, you can reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. Start with these simple steps:
- Don't allow smoking in your home. If family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside. Air conditioners and ventilation systems don't effectively remove secondhand smoke from the air.
- Don't allow smoking in your vehicle. If a passenger must smoke while you're traveling, stop as needed for smoke breaks outside the car.
- Insist that smoking restrictions be enforced at work. Many states have laws against smoking in the workplace.
- Choose smoke-free care facilities. This applies to child care facilities as well as facilities for older adults.
- Patronize businesses with no-smoking policies. Choose smoke-free restaurants. When you travel, request nonsmoking hotel rooms.
If you have a partner or other loved one who smokes, offer support and encouragement to stop smoking. The entire family will reap the benefits.
March 26, 2015
See more In-depth
- Samet JM. Secondhand smoke exposure: Effects in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 9, 2015.
- Samet JM, et al. Secondhand smoke exposure: Effects in children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 9, 2015.
- Samet JM, et al. Control of secondhand smoke exposure. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed March 9, 2015.
- The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: A report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/report. Accessed March 9, 2015.
- Winickoff JF, et al. Beliefs about the health effects of "thirdhand" smoke and home smoking bans. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e74.
- Hurt RD, et al. Myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death in Olmsted County, Minnesota, before and after smoke-free workplace laws. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172:1635.