What is Secondhand Smoke?
Secondhand smoke (also known as passive smoke) is simply other people's tobacco smoke. It consists of
- Side stream smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette
- Mainstream smoke exhaled by the smoker
Side stream smoke typically makes up nearly 85% of the smoke in a smoky environment. This type of smoke contains a much higher concentration of toxins, such as hydrogen cyanide, ammonia and carbon monoxide, than mainstream smoke.
What is the impact of secondhand smoking?
Breathing in your own, or other people's smoke, places the body under pressure.
Tobacco smoke can damage almost every organ in the human body and causes some unpleasant side effects. At first you may notice coughing, headaches, eye and throat irritation, breathing problems, asthma attacks and irregular heart beat. Over time you may witness worsening of chest problems and allergies like hay fever, bronchitis and emphysema.
In adult non-smokers, secondhand smoke increases the risk of:
- Lung cancer by 24%
- Heart disease by 25%
Secondhand smoke has been estimated to account for thousands of deaths in the UK each year.
Secondhand smoke and children
Almost half of all children in the UK are exposed to tobacco smoke in the home. Medical research shows that babies and children exposed to secondhand smoke have:
- A much higher risk of cot death than the children of non-smokers
- An increased risk of meningitis
- Double the likelihood of asthma attacks and chest infections
- A greater chance of getting ear infections, coughs and colds
More than 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital every year because of the effects of passive smoking. One of the most important things a parent can do to keep their child healthy is to ensure that they live in a smoke-free environment.
Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke can also pass on the harmful effects to their babies.
Download our smokefree homes leaflet (pdf; 76 KB)
On 31 March, the Department of Health launched a campaign reminding smokers about the dangers of secondhand smoke to their children and families.
The adverts (click on picture above) dramatise the fact that over 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, making it impossible to control. So, even if you smoke near an open window or door, the smoke can travel and harm others.
The campaign encourages smokers to order a free Smokefree Kit either by texting or from the Smokefree website. The Kit will provide additional information on the harms of secondhand smoke as well as giving smokers tools to help them make their home and car Smokefree, along with information and support on quitting.
Secondhand smoke and public places
Public opinion surveys have shown widespread support for smoking restrictions in public places and this has been growing steadily in recent years.
The vast majority of people agree that smoking should be restricted at work. Until recent legislation came into effect, about 2 million people in the UK were exposed to secondhand smoke in their places of work.
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