Secondhand Smoke and Health Risks

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed:

Secondhand smoke includes both the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette or cigar and also the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke can also be called passive smoking, involuntary smoking, or environmental tobacco smoke. People may be exposed to secondhand smoke by people they live or work with, or in social settings like bars or restaurants

Cigar smoke gives off much greater amounts of secondhand smoke because cigars contain more tobacco than cigarettes and burn longer than cigarettes. Secondhand smoke can be harmful in many ways. It can cause premature death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke. Secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to children. 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 breathing (respiratory) symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.

In addition to all these health problems, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase a person's risk of developing lung cancer. Ten to fifteen percent of lung cancers diagnosed in never-smokers are attributed to secondhand smoking. This exposure has also been associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and childhood leukemias.

Learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

References

American Cancer Society. Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke. 2015. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/secondhand-smoke.html

Asomaning, K et al. Second hand smoke, age of exposure and lung cancer risk. Lung Cancer. 2008. July; 61(1):13-20.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke. 2017. Found at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm

National Cancer Institute. Second hand smoke and cancer. 2011. Found at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/second-hand-smoke-fact-sheet

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