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Effects of second- and third-hand smoke on children

What is second- and third-hand smoke?

Secondhand smoke consists mainly of smoke released from the burning end of a cigarette, and also of smoke breathed out by the smoker. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke. Breathing in secondhand smoke can also be referred to as passive smoking or involuntary smoking.

Thirdhand smoke refers to the chemicals and particles from secondhand smoke that settle onto and coat walls, furniture, carpet, clothes, toys, dust and other objects. Thirdhand smoke is also found on the clothing, skin and hair of people who smoke.

Health effects on children

Secondhand smoke causes early death and disease in both children and in adults who do not smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, middle ear disease, higher rates and worsening of asthma, lung and airways infections, respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, phlegm, wheezing) and weaker lungs. Young children are more likely to be exposed to thirdhand smoke as they spend more time indoors and in contact with contaminated surfaces and objects such as floors.

Young children also often put their hands and other objects into their mouth. This allows toxins from thirdhand smoke to be inhaled, ingested and absorbed through skin.

The resources below provide further information on the effects of second- and thirdhand smoke on children. They may help to support school communities (i.e. school staff, parents and students) in addressing and preventing exposure to second- and third-hand smoke.

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