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Secondhand Smoke

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What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke that comes from a cigarette and smoke breathed out by a smoker. When a non-smoker is around someone smoking, they breathe in secondhand smoke.

Is Secondhand Smoke Dangerous?

Secondhand smoke is dangerous to anyone who breathes it in. There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke. It contains over 7,000 harmful chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to damage your health. It can also stay in the air for several hours after somebody smokes. Even breathing secondhand smoke for a short amount of time can hurt your body.

Over time, secondhand smoke can cause serious health issues like cancer and heart disease in non-smokers. Here are a few of the ways secondhand smoke harms your body:

  • Cancer. It has more than 70 toxic chemicals known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in people who have never smoked themselves.
  • Heart disease. Breathing secondhand smoke makes it more likely that you will get heart disease‚ have a heart attack‚ and die early.
  • Breathing problems. It can cause coughing‚ extra phlegm‚ wheezing‚ and shortness of breath.

Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for children, babies, and women who are pregnant. Some of the more serious health effects include:

  • SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Babies whose moms smoke while pregnant or who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from SIDS.
  • Smaller babies. Mothers who breathe secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have smaller babies. Babies born small are weaker and have a higher risk for many serious health problems.
  • Weak lungs. Babies who breathe secondhand smoke after birth have weaker lungs than other babies. This increases their risk of many health problems.
  • Severe asthma. Secondhand smoke causes kids who already have asthma to get more frequent and severe attacks.
  • Breathing problems. Kids whose parents smoke around them get bronchitis and pneumonia more often. Secondhand smoke also causes lung problems‚ including coughing‚ too much phlegm‚ wheezing‚ and breathlessness among school−aged kids.
  • Ear infections. Kids exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to get ear infections.

The only way to fully protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to not allow smoking indoors. Separating smokers from nonsmokers (like “no smoking” sections in restaurants)‚ cleaning the air‚ and airing out buildings does not completely get rid of secondhand smoke.

How Can I Protect my Loved Ones from Secondhand Smoke?

The best thing you can do to protect your family from secondhand smoke is to quit smoking. Right away, you get rid of their exposure to secondhand smoke in your home and car, and reduce it anywhere else you go together.

Another important step is to make sure your house and car remain smokefree. Kids breathe in secondhand smoke at home more than any other place. The same goes for many adults. Set “smokefree rules” for anyone in your home or car. Setting these rules can:

  • Reduce the amount of secondhand smoke your family breathes in
  • Help you quit smoking and stay smokefree
  • Lower the chance of your child becoming a smoker

Whether at home or on the go, there are steps you can take to protect your family from secondhand smoke. These include:

  • Asking people not to smoke in your home or car
  • Making sure people looking after your children (e.g., nannies, babysitters, day care) do not smoke
  • Choosing smokefree restaurants
  • Avoiding indoor public places that allow smoking
  • Teaching your children to stay away from secondhand smoke

Find out more:

NCI Factsheet‚ Secondhand Smoke: Questions and Answers
CDC‚ Secondhand Smoke What It Means To You (PDF)

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