The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

second smoke

Even if you don’t smoke, breathing in someone else’s smoke can be deadly too. Secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 deaths from lung cancer and tens of thousands of deaths from heart disease to nonsmoking adults in the United States each year.

Millions of children are breathing in secondhand smoke in their own home Secondhand smoke can be especially harmful to your children’s health because their lungs still are developing. If you smoke around your children or they are exposed to secondhand smoke in other places, they may be in more danger than you realize. Children whose parents smoke only outside are still exposed to the chemicals in secondhand smoke. The best way to eliminate this exposure is to quit.

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke (also known as environmental tobacco smoke) is the smoke a smoker breathes out and that comes from the tip of burning cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. It contains about 4,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are dangerous; more than 50 are known to cause cancer. Anytime children breathe in secondhand smoke they are exposed to these chemicals.

Your Developing Baby and Smoke

If you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke when you’re pregnant, your baby is exposed to harmful chemicals too. This may lead to many serious health problems, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth (born not fully developed)
  • Lower birth weight than expected (possibly meaning a less healthy baby)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Learning problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The health risks go up the longer the pregnant woman smokes or is exposed to smoke. Quitting anytime during pregnancy helps—of course, the sooner the better. All pregnant women should stay away from secondhand smoke and ask smokers not to smoke around them.

Secondhand Smoke and Your Children’s Health

Infants have a higher risk of SIDS if they are exposed to secondhand smoke. Children have a higher risk of serious health problems, or problems may become worse. Children who breathe secondhand smoke can have more:

  • Ear infections
  • Coughs and colds
  • Respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Tooth decay

Children of smokers cough and wheeze more and have a harder time getting over colds. They miss many more school days too. Secondhand smoke can cause other symptoms including stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, eye irritation, and hoarseness.

Children with asthma are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke. It may cause more asthma attacks and the attacks may be more severe, requiring trips to the hospital.

Long-Term Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Children who grow up with parents who smoke are themselves more likely to smoke. Children and teens who smoke are affected by the same health problems that affect adults. Secondhand smoke may cause problems for children later in life including:

  • Poor lung development (meaning that their lungs never grow to their full potential)
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Cataracts (an eye disease)
 

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