The dangers of smoking have been known for years. But experts warn that breathing in someone else's secondhand smoke is also a health risk.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a mix of:

  • the smoke coming from the burning end of a cigarette or cigar, called sidestream smoke
  • the smoke that a smoker breathes out, called mainstream smoke

When non-smokers breathe in secondhand smoke, it can cause serious health problems. In fact, it is almost as dangerous as if they were smokers themselves.

What Are the Risks of Secondhand Smoke?

Smokers might not mean to put the people around them in danger, but they do. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which can cause cancer or heart disease.

In kids, breathing in secondhand smoke can cause:

Kids who are around smoke also might:

  • miss more school days than kids who aren't around secondhand smoke
  • have trouble doing well in sports or being physically active

Secondhand smoke also is linked to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Later in life, kids exposed to secondhand smoke can be at risk for:

And kids who grow up in a home where parents smoke are more likely to become smokers too.

How Can Parents Protect Kids From Secondhand Smoke?

There are fewer smokers now than in years past. Chances are, though, that someone in your family or someone you know still smokes. But it's never healthy for kids to breathe in tobacco smoke. Even occasional or brief exposures can take a toll on the body.

These two rules can help protect your kids (and yourself!) from secondhand smoke:

  1. No smoking inside the house: Smokers should go outside, away from other people, especially kids and pregnant women. Smoke lingers in the air hours after cigarettes are put out. So even if someone smokes in a room alone, other people will eventually inhale that smoke too.

    Smoke also sticks to people and their clothing, furniture, toys, and carpets. This "thirdhand smoke" can't be easily washed away with soap and water. Kids who touch surfaces with thirdhand smoke on them will absorb the dangerous chemicals through their skin and breathe them into their lungs. Smokers should wash their hands and change their clothes after a smoke before they hold or hug children.
  2. No smoking in a car with other people: Even blowing smoke out the window does little, if anything, to reduce smoke exposure.

Also, don't hesitate to speak up if someone smokes near your child. Politely ask the person not to, but be ready to move away from the smoker if things get uncomfortable.

If you smoke, try to quit. If you have other smokers in the family, offer support and encouragement to help them kick the habit. Quitting isn't easy because smoking is highly addictive. But there are many support groups and tobacco-free programs can help people stop. You also can find information and help online at:

Back to Articles


Related Articles

Asthma-Safe Homes

Here's steps to remove or minimize triggers at home that cause asthma flare-ups.

Read More

Pregnancy Precautions: FAQs

Moms-to-be have a lot of questions about what's safe during pregnancy. Keep your sanity by knowing what you can - and can't - do before your baby arrives.

Read More

Vaping: What You Need to Know

E-cigarettes are marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, but they're not. They still deliver nicotine into the body and damage the lungs. Here are the facts on vaping.

Read More

What Kids Say About: Tobacco

Everyone knows tobacco is unhealthy, but what do kids think about it? We asked 1,433 kids to give us their opinions.

Read More

Vaping: What You Need to Know

E-cigarettes aren't a safe alternative to smoking, they're just another way of putting nicotine into your body. Get the facts on e-cigs and vaping.

Read More

Gum Disease

Gum disease doesn't just happen to people your grandparents' age - it can happen to teens too. Get the details here.

Read More

Helping a Parent Who Smokes

You love your mom and dad, but what if they smoke? Find out how you can help them be healthier.

Read More

Kids and Smoking

The health risks of smoking are well known, many young people still do it. Here's how to help your kids avoid smoking, vaping, or using chewing tobacco - or quit, if they've already started.

Read More

Smoking and Asthma

Being a smoker is an obvious risk for kids and teens with asthma, but just being around people who smoke - and breathing in secondhand smoke - can cause problems, too.

Read More

Bad Breath

How does your breath smell? Find out how to keep it smelling sweet in this article for kids.

Read More

Smoking Stinks!

Everyone says smoking is bad for you. Why? Find out in this article for kids.

Read More

Smoking and Asthma

Smoking - or even breathing in secondhand smoke - can make asthma worse. Find out more in this article for kids.

Read More

Smoking

Smoking is on the decline, but some people are still lighting up. Why? The answer is addiction. Find out more in this article for teens.

Read More

Secondhand Smoke

Experts now know that breathing in someone else's secondhand smoke is bad for you. Find out what you can do about it.

Read More

Smoking and Asthma

Find out why smoking is a bad idea - especially for people with asthma.

Read More

Nicotine: What Parents Need to Know

Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant. Those who start smoking before age 21 have the hardest time breaking the habit.

Read More

Your Lungs & Respiratory System

What's something kids are doing all day, every day? Breathing! Your lungs are large and in charge of breathing, so read all about them in this article.

Read More

What Are the Risks of Smoking During Pregnancy?

Find out what the experts have to say.

Read More

How Can I Quit Smoking?

Nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is related to tobacco. Are you ready to kick the habit?

Read More

Lungs and Respiratory System

Each day you breathe about 20,000 times. Find out more about the lungs and breathing process.

Read More

Lungs and Respiratory System

By the time we're 70 years old, we will have taken at least 600 million breaths. All of this breathing couldn't happen without the respiratory system.

Read More

Smokeless Tobacco

Chewing or dipping: These terms are familiar to the millions of teens who use smokeless tobacco. If you're ready to quit or you want to learn more about smokeless tobacco, read this article.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.