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All About Secondhand Smoke

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

By Ho Jin Jang

Graphic by Elaine Zhang, Graphics Editor

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke — also known as passive smoke, environmental tobacco smoke, or involuntary smoke — is a serious health hazard that causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year. It is a mixture of two forms of smoke: mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke. It occurs when tobacco smoke is inhaled by people in the vicinity of others who are actually taking part in the activity.

How many people are secondhand smokers?

Everyone, even young infants, can be a target of secondhand smoke. Between 1964 and 2014, 2.5 million people died from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a report from the U.S Surgeon General.

What are the effects of secondhand smoke on children's health?

Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke can experience sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, and severe asthma. Secondhand smoke impedes children’s lung development and can cause them to cough, wheeze, and feel breathless.

Does secondhand smoke cause cancer?

The answer to that is, in short, yes. Secondhand smoke has the same harmful chemical elements that smokers normally inhale from cigarettes, and some of these chemical elements can cause cancer. Cancer-causing elements include benzene, benzo[a]pyrene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have all classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent). The Surgeon General predicts that, between 2005 and 2009, secondhand smoke exposure caused more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths among adult non-smokers each year.

What are some other health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke?

Exposure to secondhand smoke can irritate airways and harm a person’s heart and blood vessels. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%. Being exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy causes fertility issues, pregnancy complications, and poor birth outcomes, including impaired lung development, low birth weight, and preterm delivery.

Do e-cigarettes emit secondhand smoke?

Electronic cigarettes, including vapes, juuls, IQOS (smoke-free cigarette alternative), and pod mouths, are battery-powered devices that convert liquid nicotine into an aerosol that users inhale. Following users’ exhalation, passive smokers are exposed to secondhand aerosols, which include harmful chemicals, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and other cancer causing agents. Even though e-cigarettes do not necessarily emit secondhand smoke, they release secondhand aerosol which also impacts others negatively .

How do we protect passive smokers?

The only way to protect passive smokers completely is by eliminating possible smoking both indoors and outdoors. You should protect yourself and your family from secondhand smoke by not allowing indoor smoking in your house, not allowing anyone to smoke inside a car (even with the window open), making sure that children are not exposed to tobacco, and teaching children to avoid secondhand smoke.


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