Secondhand Smoke and Health Risks

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed: December 19, 2023

Secondhand smoke is both the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette or cigar and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke can also be called passive smoking, involuntary smoking, or environmental tobacco smoke. You may be exposed to secondhand smoke by people you 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.

American Cancer Society. Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke. 2015. Found at:

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:

National Cancer Institute. Second hand smoke and cancer. 2011. Found at:

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