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Secondhand smoke and your family's health

When you smoke, the people around you inhale the smoke you breathe out and the smoke burning from the cigarette. This is called secondhand smoke. It's very harmful.

Quitting is not only great for you and your health – it will protect your loved ones from harmful secondhand smoke.

As you probably know, secondhand smoke means health risks for the people around you. Even if you don’t smoke near them, they can still breathe in the smoke (and the harmful chemicals it contains) from your hair, skin and clothes. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Did you know there are at least 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke that are known to be toxic, including more than 50 that are known to cause cancer?

Children and babies are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. 

Effects of secondhand smoke on the unborn child

When a pregnant woman breathes in secondhand smoke, chemicals from the smoke can pass through her lungs into the bloodstream. Nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals can cross the placenta affecting her unborn child.

Women exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to have a preterm birth (a baby carried for less than 37 weeks) as well as a baby with a lower birth weight.

Health effects of secondhand smoke on infants and children

  • Infants exposed to secondhand smoke have about twice the risk for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or cot death) compared with infants living in a smoke free environment.
  • Compared to children of non-smokers, the children of parents who smoke have higher rates of lung or airways infections such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
  • Asthma is more common among children of smokers. Children with asthma exposed to secondhand smoke have a greater risk of getting symptoms earlier in life, and having more symptoms and asthma attacks. They are more likely to use asthma medications more often and for a longer period. 
  • Children of smokers have a lowering in lung function, meaning that on average, they cannot breathe in as deeply or breathe out as hard compared to children of non-smokers. Some evidence suggests that this reduced lung function may even persist into adulthood.
  • Children of smokers are more likely to contract ear infections and have an increased risk of meningococcal disease, which can sometimes cause death, mental disability, hearing loss, or loss of a limb.
  • Childhood cancers: leukaemia, brain cancer and lymphomas (where both the pregnant mother and the child after birth were exposed to secondhand smoke).

Health effects of secondhand smoke on adults

Secondhand smoke causes the following diseases and conditions in adults:

  • Heart disease 
  • Lung cancer
  • Stroke
  • Irritation of the eyes and nose

It has also been linked to:

  • Cancers of the breast, throat, voice-box, nose and cervix
  • Diabetes
  • Disease of the blood vessels
  • short term respiratory symptoms including cough, wheeze, chest tightness and difficulty breathing
  • Long term respiratory symptoms 
  • Development of asthma and worsening of asthma control
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


The best way to protect children from secondhand smoke is to make your home and car smokefree. Or quit smoking. 

To know more, call Quitline or request a Quitline callback.

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