There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
What is Secondhand Smoke?
Secondhand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or other combustible tobacco product, as well as the smoke breathed out by smokers (EPA, 2020). Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and at least 70 of them are known to cause cancer (CDC, 2014)
Exposure to secondhand smoke occurs any time an individual smokes any tobacco product around another individual. This commonly occurs indoors, particularly in homes and cars. Secondhand smoke can move between rooms of a home and between apartment units. Opening a window or increasing ventilation in a home or car is not protective from secondhand smoke (EPA, 2020).
The Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke
Regular exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for developing lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke in non-smoking adults by 20-30%. In fact, an estimated 41,000 deaths from lung cancer and heart disease occur each year among nonsmoking adults and 400 deaths infants each year . Since the 1964 Surgeon General Report, secondhand smoke exposure has resulted in 2.5 million deaths of nonsmokers in the U.S. (CDC, 2014).
Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can interfere with the normal functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems. Breathing secondhand smoke can have immediate negative effects on a person’s blood and blood vessels, increasing the risk of having a heart attack. People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk of suffering negative effects from breathing secondhand smoke and should take special precautions to avoid even brief exposures (CDC, 2014).
People with chronic health conditions are more likely than healthy people to suffer when exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can aggravate allergies, symptoms of asthma, and cause other respiratory and lung conditions in nonsmokers.
Secondhand smoke exposure is especially dangerous to children because their lungs and bodies are still developing. About 4 out of 10 U.S. children aged 3–11 years (40.6%) are exposed to secondhand smoke (CDC, 2014).
Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth (CDC, 2014)
Children and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are sick more often with illness such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections (CDC, 2014)
Studies show that older children whose parents smoke, get sick more often. When exposed to secondhand smoke wheezing and coughing are more common and the risk of lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, is increased. Children whose parents smoke around them get more ear infections, have fluid in their ears more often, and have more operations to put in ear tubes for drainage (AAFA, 2018).
Secondhand smoke exposure, even brief, can trigger an asthma attack in a child, and those who are around secondhand smoke have more severe and frequent asthma attacks. A severe asthma attack can put a child’s life in danger. More than 40 percent of children who go to the emergency room for asthma live with smokers (CDC, 2014)
Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and pregnant women regularly exposed are more likely to give birth to low birth weight babies. In fact, secondhand smoke exposure in pregnant women can be as damaging to the fetus as if the mother were inhaling the smoke directly from a cigarette (CDC, 2014)
Secondhand Smoke in Indoor Environments
For any environment, the harm from secondhand smoke depends on time spent in the environment and the amount of smoke in that air space. However, smoke-filled rooms can have up to six times the air pollution of a busy highway (CDC, 2014). Most people spend 90% of their time in two types of environments – home and work. Smoke-free workplace laws and voluntary smoke-free home pledges help to reduce the health risks of secondhand smoke.
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act (NCIAA) protects children and adults from secondhand smoke and second hand aerosols exposure in most public places and indoor places of employment, such as restaurants, movie theaters, and schools. In 2012 about 30% of Nevadans reported exposure to tobacco smoke on the job at least one day a week compared with more than 40% in 2005 prior to the passage of the NCIAA. Unfortunately, there are still many people working in casinos, bars, and other locations who are not protected by the NCIAA and who are exposed daily to secondhand smoke.
Protect your children and your family by making your home and car smoke-free. Smoking in another room like a bathroom or bedroom pollutes all the air in your home. In an apartment, smoke in one room can go through the whole building. Smoking outside in a hall or stairwell does not protect children inside. Smoke goes under doors, windows, and through cracks. Prohibit others from smoking in your home or car as well. Don’t smoke inside, even when children are not present. Studies reveal that even if there is not active smoking while children are present, smoke can linger in an enclosed area (like a house or car) for up to seven days after a person has smoked. Make sure your children’s day care centers and schools are tobacco-free. Avoid places that still allow smoking indoors (CDC, 2014).