Photo of Cigarette and SmokeWe all know that smoking any type of tobacco is bad for your health.

You may even have even heard that breathing in secondhand smoke is bad for you too.

But, what exactly does that mean?

Is your health really at risk from smoke that is breathed in secondhand?

In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this type of smoke. You’ll come away learning what is secondhand smoke, what the health factors are associated with long term exposure and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

What Does “Secondhand Smoke” Mean?

Secondhand smoke is commonly known as environmental tobacco smoke, which comes in two types:

  1. The first, mainstream smoke, comes out of a smoker’s lungs when he or she exhales.
  2. The second, side stream smoke, comes off the end of a smoker’s burning cigarette, cigar, hookah or other smoking device.

Millions of people experience secondhand smoke exposure every day, with common sources of exposure being smoke-filled homes, automobiles and workplaces.

In some areas, smoking is still allowed in public places such as bars and restaurants, creating an additional risk for nonsmoking patrons.

By far, the most common source of secondhand smoke is cigarettes, but the use of pipes, cigars, and other tobacco products also contribute to this type of smoke as well.

Out of the 7,000 chemicals that secondhand smoke contains, we know that hundreds are toxic and around 70 are carcinogenic (source: American Lung Association).

“Involuntary smoking,” or “passive smoking,” happens when nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke. When they breathe in secondhand smoke, they take in nicotine and other toxic chemicals, just as smokers do.

The more secondhand smoke a nonsmoker is exposed to, the higher the levels of toxins can be found in their bodies.

Will I Get Sick From Secondhand Smoke?

The effects of secondhand smoke exposure carry the same dangers as smoking.

When you are exposed to another person’s smoke, you are inhaling the same toxic chemicals they do. Being exposed to even a small amount of secondhand smoke can have a poor effect on your health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the worst dangers of secondhand smoke is that it’s known to cause cancer in adults who have never smoked.

In fact, in the United States, an estimated 3,000 adults pass away every year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. Nonsmokers who live with smokers face a 20% to 30% greater chance of developing lung cancer from inhaling the toxins released by tobacco smoke.

Secondhand smoke also causes coronary heart disease and increases the chance of a heart attack. It is approximated that 46,000 nonsmokers die each year from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke.

It is especially important that people who already have heart disease avoid secondhand smoke, even briefly, as they are at a higher risk of suffering negative effects from it.

Many studies show that smoking bans in public places improve the health of workers and people in the community. Therefore, many states and communities now have laws that make workplaces, restaurants and other public places smoke-free.

Unfortunately, millions of people, including children, are still exposed to secondhand smoke in homes and automobiles without any means of escape, and their health is being harshly affected because of it.

Do Children and Pregnant Women Have Additional Risks from Secondhand Smoke?

Studies have confirmed that secondhand smoke is associated with lower birth weights in non-smoking pregnant women. It is now advised that pregnant women avoid environments where they will be exposed to smoke.

Children who are exposed to smoking are especially at risk from health problems, as their lungs aren’t yet fully developed. Like adults, they may develop ear infections, respiratory infections, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks. It’s not uncommon for children who don’t have asthma to develop new asthma symptoms from being exposed to smoke.

Babies are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke effects and also have a higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome.

How to Protect Yourself (and Loved Ones) from Secondhand Smoke Exposure

If you currently smoke, the best way to protect your household from secondhand smoke exposure is to quit. Otherwise, the next best way is to avoid exposing your family to your smoke is by smoking away from them.

Many smokers choose to designate a single area of their home for smoking and to keep nonsmokers from entering while smoking is taking place. Others will only smoke outside their home. Smokers who regularly transport nonsmoking passengers or children in their vehicles should consider making their automobiles smoke free, as well.

For people that continue to smoke indoors, air purifiers are the best option for reducing cigarette smoke in a home or business. These devices can be seen in most cigar shops, and keep the establishment relatively smoke free while customers shop and smoke.

Air purifiers are special machines that strip the air of smoke particles so that they don’t enter into the lungs of nonsmokers in the room. Several products of this kind are 99.97% effective at removing secondhand smoke from the air. This also includes getting rid of the smell that tobacco smoke leaves behind.

What is Thirdhand Smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new term, but it too can have detrimental impact on your health. If this is the first time you have ever heard of this concept, take a look at this post to become better educated on the subject What is Thirdhand Smoke and How Does it Affect Your Health?