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Secondhand smoke and your health

When you smoke, the people around you inhale the smoke you breathe out and the smoke burning from the cigarette.

Every time you, your partner or a household member smokes, others in the household are breathing in the same dangerous chemicals.

What’s in cigarette smoke?

  • Tar – a sticky brown substance that contains cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas that reduces the amount of oxygen carried by the blood.
  • Nicotine – the addictive drug in tobacco which plays a role in heart disease.
  • 7000 chemicals that can harm the lungs and contribute to disease, including 50 known carcinogens. 

Secondhand smoke and health

Because secondhand smoke has a similar make up to the smoke that smokers inhale, the types of health issues associated with active smoking are similar to the types of health issues associated with secondhand smoke. 

Cardiovascular disease appears to be a particular risk to those exposed to secondhand smoke. 

Babies and children who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of developing a number of serious illnesses. These include:

  • SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) or 'cot death’
  • chest illnesses such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia
  • weaker lungs
  • cough, phlegm, wheeze and breathlessness
  •  more frequent and worse asthma symptoms
  •  ‘glue ear’ (middle ear disease) which is the most common cause of hearing loss in children
  •  meningococcal disease, which can sometimes cause death, mental disability, hearing loss, or loss of a limb
  •  missed school due to illness

Secondhand smoke and other health issues

  • Pregnancy: secondhand smoke is harmful during pregnancy. In can increase the risk of miscarriage, lower birth weight, pre-term delivery, compromised fetal lung development, birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth and cardiovascular disease. 
  • Fertility: secondhand smoke can also affect fertility. If your partner smokes it can affect both your fertility and your partner’s fertility. 
  • The home: not only does smoke hang in the air, the chemicals in this smoke sit on clothes and furniture. 
  • Pets: secondhand smoke can affect the health of pets. This includes this risk of several different cancers. 

What to do?

The best way to protect your loved ones from secondhand smoke is to quit smoking. The next best way is to have a total smoking ban inside your home, and to change smoke-filled clothing before carrying babies and children.

For tips, talk to one of our Quit Specialists from the Quitline or request a Quitline callback

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