Personal Health Care
  Secondhand Smoke  

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke, also know as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from smokers. For people who inhale it, which includes anyone who is exposed not merely the person smoking, secondhand smoke can cause illness or worsen existing health problems including cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma.  Secondhand smoke has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of cancer in humans (Group A carcinogen). This means that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

What's actually in smoke?

There are over 7,000 chemicals in secondhand tobacco smoke and over 69 of them are known to cause cancer.

The 2006 US Surgeon General's report state that:

  • Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma. Smoking by parents causes respiratory symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.
  • Exposure of adults to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes coronary heart disease and lung cancer.
  • The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite substantial progress in tobacco control.
  • Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.

If you are a smoker:

  • Smoke outside. Do not permit others to smoke in your house, apartment or car.
  • Wear “smoking clothes” that you take off when you come inside after smoking. It is also a good idea to leave the jacket outside if possible.
  • If you are with children, avoid places that allow smoking.

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This page last updated: 07/02/21