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Home / Stop Smoking / The effects of passive smoking

The effects of passive smoking

Learn about how passive smoking can affect you and your loved ones

Passive smoking, also known as second-hand smoke, can harm the health of non-smokers even if they are briefly exposed to the fumes of cigarettes. These invisible pollutants can have many consequences on our health.

The effects of secondhand smoke exposure on the body are immediate. It can produce harmful effects within 60 minutes Trusted source World Health Organization (WHO) Government Source International Public Health Information Go to source of exposure which can last for at least three hours afterwards.

Inhaling passive smoke has been linked to various health issues, including breathing problems and an increased risk of certain health conditions. Continue reading to learn more about how this addictive habit can affect the health of those around you.

What is passive smoking?

Passive smoking is when you breathe in other people’s tobacco smoke. When smoke contaminates the air, it is inhaled by everyone, exposing both smokers and non-smokers to its harmful effects.

Person smoking in front of others

It can cause many of the same health effects as smoking does. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), second-hand smoke kills around 1.3 million Trusted source World Health Organization (WHO) Government Source International Public Health Information Go to source people prematurely every year.

Most second-hand smoke is invisible and odourless but can linger in the air for hours after you have stopped smoking. Even if you're careful, the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke can still affect people nearby as they breathe. The best thing you can do to protect others from passive smoke is to stop smoking.

What are the effects of passive smoking?

Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer. Even if you are briefly exposed to second-hand smoke, your health is at risk as there is no safe level of exposure.

Short-term effects of second-hand smoke include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Irritation of your eyes or nose
Graphic showing the short-term effects of second-hand smoke

Long-term effects from exposure to second-hand smoke can have serious health risks, including an increased risk of developing:

  • coronary heart disease
  • lung cancer and some other cancers
  • heart attack and stroke
  • breathing problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Where are most people exposed to secondhand smoke?

Most people are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace or at their home. People may also be exposed to it in public places like bars, restaurants, recreational areas, and apartment buildings. Try to maintain your distance from people to minimise your exposure in public places.

What are the risks of passive smoking in pregnancy?

Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy can have serious risks for you and your baby during pregnancy and after birth. Breathing in second-hand smoke means that your unborn baby is exposed to chemicals in cigarette smoke that can harm their health.

cigarettes in an ashtray near a pregnant woman

Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to deliver their babies early. There is also a greater chance that your baby will be born with a low birth weight. Both situations mean that your baby may experience health problems such as weaker lungs.

If you smoke while pregnant or smoke around your baby after birth, your baby is more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) compared to babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke.

Babies who have parents who smoke are more likely to experience bronchitis and pneumonia during their first year of life.

What are the passive smoking effects on children?

Young children are more likely to be harmed by passive smoking as their airways, lungs and immune systems are still developing.

Children who are exposed to passive smoke are more likely to experience:

  • asthma attacks
  • breathing problems
  • chest infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath
  • coughs and colds
  • ear infections

Children who have family members who smoke, or live with people who smoke, may be more likely to start smoking themselves.

What are the effects of passive smoking on the elderly?

Elderly individuals are often more susceptible to respiratory problems. Second-hand smoke can worsen lung conditions, leading to increased respiratory symptoms and decreased lung function.

The elderly often have pre-existing health conditions, such as heart problems or a weakened immune system. Exposure to second-hand smoke may worsen the symptoms of these conditions or put them at increased risk of getting ill.

How can I protect others from second-hand smoke?

The best way to protect your loved ones from passive smoke is to quit smoking.

When you stop smoking, you are not only doing great things for your health but also for the health of your loved ones.

We understand that stopping smoking can be hard. There are things you can do to help reduce environmental tobacco smoke exposure until you or your household members are able to stop completely:

  • Make your home smoke-free. Always smoke outdoors and shut windows and doors so smoke doesn’t drift inside.
  • Make sure that your visitors smoke outdoors.
  • Make your car smoke-free. Smoking with the windows open does not prevent exposure to smoke.
  • Try to avoid taking children to public places where people tend to smoke.

There are also certain medications you can take to help you successfully quit smoking, such as Zyban.

Interested in quitting?

Learn more
Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 01-02-2024
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