Secondhand Smoke

(Español) It has been well documented that exposure to secondhand smoke is extremely unhealthful. Secondhand smoke gets into the air when tobacco products are burned in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Secondhand smoke — also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) — contains thousands of toxic chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer. A U.S. Surgeon General report in 2006 stated that exposing nonsmokers to secondhand smoke at home or work significantly increases their risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer. Secondhand smoke also has adverse effects on children and can lead to respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks.

In 1964, the Surgeon General released its first major report on the devastating health effects of smoking. It was a turning point in the public health field, and since then research has supported a number of policy changes and initiatives to curtail smoking and minimize exposure to secondhand smoke. As part of the 2003 Clean Indoor Air Act, New York State banned smoking completely from bars, restaurants, schools, hotels, and all places of employment. Research on the health effects of secondhand smoke as well as its socioeconomic implications continues today.

What We Know About Secondhand Smoke

Research shows that exposure to even small levels of secondhand tobacco smoke is associated with the development of many serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory infections, and asthma. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy can harm a baby’s healthy growth and development for years to come. Prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke is associated with abnormal lung function in infancy that can persist through adolescence, as well as lower birth weights, premature delivery, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and miscarriage.

Center research is showing that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke may worsen health problems linked with exposure to PAH in air pollution as well as conditions of poverty:

  • Results from our Mothers and Newborns Studies suggest that the interaction of prenatal exposure to PAH and postnatal exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke leads to increased respiratory symptoms and a probable diagnosis of asthma by ages one and two years. Respiratory symptoms include cough, difficulty breathing, wheeze, and probable asthma (Miller et al., 2004).

  • Children prenatally exposed to secondhand smoke — especially children experiencing material hardship (unmet basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing) — had significantly reduced scores on tests of cognitive development at two years of age (Rauh et al., 2004).

What You Can Do

There are many things to do to minimize exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • Do not smoke. And don’t allow anyone else to smoke in your home or car where smoke gets contained and remains in carpets, clothing, and furniture.

  • If you, another household member, or guest must smoke, do it outdoors and away from children.

  • Choose your caregivers carefully. Make sure they do not smoke or, if they do, insist that they not to smoke around your child.

  • Encourage family members and close friends who smoke to quit.

Source: Adapted from “The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke”