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Smoking and How To Quit

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Secondhand smoke

a baby inhaling secondhand smoke

What is secondhand smoke?

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.

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Dangers of secondhand smoke

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:

  • Nasal sinus cancer
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Coughing
  • Congestion

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Secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace

Did you know?

Breathing in secondhand smoke at home or at work increases your chances of getting lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.

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.

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How secondhand smoke affects babies and children

Why does birth weight matter?

Low-birth-weight babies are more likely to die or have serious health problems. They are also more likely to have long-term disabilities, such as problems seeing or hearing.

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:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infections
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing

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.

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Tips to avoid secondhand smoke

If you live with a smoker:

  • Ask the smoker to keep your home and cars smoke-free at all times. Ask him/her to smoke outside only.
  • If the smoker refuses, suggest other ways to protect yourself and your children. Ask the smoker to smoke only in one room or smoke at home only when you and the children are not there.
  • Open a window to let some fresh air in or use a fan to blow the smoke outside.
  • Support smokers who are trying to quit.

When visitors come:

  • Ask smokers who visit not to smoke in your house.

In others' homes:

  • Ask others nicely to not smoke around you.
  • Let smokers know if you're having problems (such as coughing or itchy eyes) because of their smoking.

If you have children:

  • Keep your home smoke-free. Ask babysitters, family members, and caregivers not to smoke inside or around your children, even if outside.
  • Do not smoke in your car.
  • If the smoker still smokes around your children, have your children leave the room or play outside while the person is smoking.
  • Make sure your children's daycare or schools are 100 percent smoke-free.

Away from home:

  • Spend time in smoke-free places.
  • Avoid restaurants and bars that allow smoking.

For more information on secondhand smoke, see The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.

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Content last updated: May 19, 2010.

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