Secondhand Smoke Dangers & Protection

Many smokers—and non-smokers who are exposed to those smoking nearby—do not understand the true dangers of secondhand smoke. Understanding the types of secondhand smoke and potential negative effects can help both smokers and non-smokers mitigate risks.

Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke can contribute to health problems such as lung cancer, heart disease, and breathing problems like shortness of breath and wheezing. Medical professionals have noted that health problems associated with smoking can develop in those who do not smoke.

There are significant risks to more vulnerable parts of the population, including pregnant women, babies, and children.

  • Pregnant women – Exposure to secondhand smoke can result in babies with a low birth weight.
  • Babies – Infants who spend time around secondhand smoke are more likely to experience lung infections and other problems.
  • Children – Health issues such as asthma can surface in children exposed to secondhand smoke.

Types of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke lingers in the air for hours after someone smokes nearby, and it is harmful to breathe in, even if you don’t breathe it in for long. This is referred to as passive smoking (also called involuntary smoking).

There are two types of secondhand smoke, and anyone around a smoker can be exposed to both:

  • Sidestream smoke – This is the smoke that comes from the cigarette itself while it is lit.
  • Mainstream smoke – This is the smoke that the smoker actually breathes out while exhaling.


If you are currently a smoker, you can protect your family and friends by quitting as soon as possible. Your doctor can help you with the tools you need to quit.

The best ways to protect yourself from secondhand smoke are to avoid places where smoking is permitted inside and other spots with heavy smoke. If you have caretakers for your loved ones, request that they not smoke around your family. Tell children and other family members that they should walk a good distance away from anyone smoking outside in order to avoid inhaling smoke.

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