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: ear infections lung infections (like pneumonia) asthma flare-ups coughing, sore throats, sniffling, and sneezing 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: hearing loss lung and other cancers strokes heart disease 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: 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. 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: Smoking Quitline Quit Tobacco Smokefree.gov 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. 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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. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.