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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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The Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Being around tobacco smoke is bad for you, even if it's someone else's smoke.

When someone smokes a cigarette, most of the smoke doesn't go into their lungs. It goes into the air, where anyone nearby can breathe it.

Recommended Related to Smoking Cessation

How One Woman Quit Smoking for Good

I smoked for more than 44 years and knew I needed to stop. I had smoking-induced asthma. My parents, both heavy smokers, died of smoking-related diseases. Secondhand smoke contributed mightily to my four children’s recurring upper respiratory ailments in their younger years. Yet I continued to smoke. Every winter I dealt with pleurisy attacks from breathing cold air. I had to lie flat on my back for days, the slightest movement sending knifelike pains through my chest. After I’d recovered, the first...

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Smoking is banned in many public places. But many people are still exposed to secondhand smoke, especially children who live with parents who smoke. Even people who try to be careful about where they light up may not protect those around them.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

It can come from a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Tobacco smoke has more than 4,000 chemical compounds, at least 250 are known to cause disease.

Secondhand smoke makes you more likely to get lung cancer and many other types of cancer. It's also bad for your heart.

Every year in the U.S., secondhand smoke causes about 34,000 deaths from heart disease and 7,300 deaths from lung cancer, the CDC says.

Smoke makes your blood stickier, raises your "bad" LDL cholesterol, and damages the lining of your blood vessels. Eventually, these changes can make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Dangers for Children

Kids are particularly at risk for the effects of secondhand smoke because their bodies are still growing and they breathe at a faster rate than adults.

These conditions have been linked to secondhand smoke exposure in children:

Smoking during pregnancy is especially dangerous to the developing baby. It's tied to premature delivery, low birth weight, SIDS, limited mental ability, trouble with learning, and ADHD. The more cigarettes a mother-to-be smokes, the greater the danger to her baby.

How to Avoid Secondhand Smoke

It's simple: Avoid being around people who are smoking, and try to convince those around you who smoke to quit. Anyone who does smoke should do so outside, as far away from other people as possible.

Your home is probably the most important place to keep smoke-free, especially if you have children. Keeping kids (and adults) far away from smoke can help lower their chances of having respiratory infections, severe asthma, cancer, and many other serious conditions.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 12, 2014

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