Second Hand Smoke

Second Hand Smoke is a combination of exhaled smoke and the smoke produced by the end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. It consists of more than 4,000 different chemical compounds, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde and arsenic. More than 50 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Others are known or suspected mutagens that are capable of mutating or changing the genetic structure of cells.

Higher concentrations of these toxic chemicals are found in second hand smoke compared to the mainstream smoke inhaled by the smoker. In fact, second hand smoke contains:

  • Over 3 times the amount of tar

  • Up to 5 times the carbon monoxide

  • Up to 6 times the nicotine

In addition to the poisonous chemicals that are already in smoke, second hand smoke may also contain pesticides, herbicides and other toxic additives that are used to manufacture tobacco products.

Is there any safe level of exposure to second hand smoke?

No, there is no safe level of exposure. Two of the known human carcinogens found in second hand smoke have an acceptable exposure limit of zero.


What are the health effects of being exposed to second hand smoke?

Exposure to second hand smoke, even for brief periods, can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, coughing and wheezing. Second hand smoke can seriously intensify symptoms in people with allergies or asthma. Long term exposure causes heart disease and cancer. And remember, even smokers breathe in second hand smoke, in addition to the smoke they inhale directly.

The body's ability to take in and use oxygen is decreased by breathing in second hand smoke. It can affect a non-smoker's lung capacity similar to direct smoking of 1 to 10 cigarettes a day.


Why does second hand smoke cause cancer?

Some chemicals in second hand smoke directly cause cancer. Others help the cancer get started while others speed up its development. Other chemicals damage the body's natural cleaning systems so that toxic substances can enter and remain in the body.


What is the risk of heart disease from second hand smoke?

Second hand smoke increases risk of death from heart disease by 20 to 30 percent for non-smokers married to smokers.


What are the effects of second hand smoke exposure for children?

For children who breathe second hand smoke:
  • The risk of middle ear infections doubles

  • The risk of asthma more than doubles

  • The risk of respiratory problems such as coughs, phlegm, and wheezing more than doubles

  • The risk of bronchitis and pneumonia can triple

  • The risk of allergies doubles

They are also more likely to:
  • Be cranky, restless and spit up more often from the chemicals they breathe in or receive through breast milk

  • Be hospitalized due to illness in their first year of life

  • Be hyperactive

  • Be 3-5 months behind other children in reading and math skills

If mothers smoked, or were exposed to second hand smoke while pregnant, their children may have more difficulty with reading, mathematics and related skills.

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of second hand smoke. They breathe faster than adults do and inhale more air and pollutants relative to their body weight.

This information should not be used as a threat to get someone to quit. Use it to remind yourself of the benefits to you and your children if they decide to quit. Resolve to help them in their journey to become smoke-free.

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