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Secondhand smoke is the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar combined with the smoke breathed out by the smoker. You can be exposed to secondhand smoke anytime a person smokes near you.
Secondhand smoke causes early death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke. One study estimated that secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 deaths from lung cancer and about 46,000 deaths from heart disease every year. The more you are around secondhand smoke, the more likely you are to get sick. There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke.
Other health problems caused by secondhand smoke include:
The good news is that most employees in the United States work for businesses with smoke-free policies. The bad news is that many workers are still exposed to secondhand smoke, especially those who work in bars and restaurants. Studies have found that restaurant and bar workers breathe more secondhand smoke than other workers and have higher rates of lung cancer.
Many restaurant and bar owners argue that smoking bans will hurt their businesses. But studies have shown that this is not the case. In New York City, income and the number of jobs in the city both increased after a city-wide smoking ban was put in place. Today, more and more states are passing laws banning smoking in restaurants and bars.
Studies show that babies born to mothers who were exposed to secondhand smoke during their pregnancy have more health problems than babies whose moms were not around secondhand smoke. These babies tend to have weaker lungs and lower birth weights. Also, babies of mothers who smoke before and after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under 1 year of age.
Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for these health problems:
Studies show that children of smokers are sick more often than children of nonsmokers. Also, secondhand smoke exposure can make some chronic health problems worse. For instance, secondsmoke can cause children who already have asthma to have more frequent and severe attacks. Even after the smoke clears, toxins can be left behind as residue. Children and babies are easily exposed to residue on floors, toys, clothing, and other household surfaces. Take care of yourself and your children by quitting smoking today. For help quitting, visit our how to quit section.
In others' homes:
For more information on secondhand smoke, see The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.
Content last updated: May 19, 2010.