Secondhand Smoke Can Harm Adults, Children & Pets

The dangers of breathing in secondhand smoke have gotten more attention over the years, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February, 2015, 58 million nonsmokers in the United States are still exposed to secondhand smoke. Delving into secondhand smoke facts in more detail truly helps explain just how dangerous this threat is—and why, if you’re a smoker, you should consider putting down that pack for good (if not just for you, then for those around you).

Cigarette Smoke Image - Masterfile

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

While some secondhand smoke facts are well known, others are not. Many people don’t realize that secondhand smoke refers not only to the smoke that wafts from the end of a burning cigarette, but also the smoke that is breathed out by the smoker. This smoke is not only unpleasant to be around, but it can directly cause life-threatening illnesses.

The Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Adults

If you live or work with a smoker, be aware that their habit is having an impact on your health:

The CDC reports that breathing secondhand smoke has an instant effect on a person's cardiovascular system. Even a slight exposure can damage the blood vessels and cause blood platelets to become stickier. Over time, these changes can result in heart disease and heart attacks.

People regularly exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20 to 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer than those who are not exposed as often.

Cigarette smoke contains around 70 cancer-causing chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. Even brief exposure can damage your body cells leaving them prone to cancerous changes.

The Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Children

The effects of secondhand smoke can be long-lasting for our littlest ones:

According to the Office of the Surgeon General, babies living in a home where a parent smokes are at a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. It is believed that the chemicals in the smoke interfere with the way the brain regulates breathing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children of all ages who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer from asthma, respiratory problems such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and middle ear infections.

Children who grow up around smokers are likely to have smaller lungs and decreased lung function compared to those who come from non-smoking homes.

The Facts About Secondhand Smoke and Pets

Your pet is a living creature and is also susceptible to the effects of secondhand smoke. Like humans, there is a higher incidence of cancer in animals that live with a smoker; pets may also suffer from respiratory problems. Carcinogens from secondhand smoke build up on a cat's fur and are ingested as they groom. This can result in mouth cancer and feline lymphoma. Dogs are susceptible to cancer of the nose and sinus area.

Secondhand Smoke and Your Home

Secondhand smoke has a stale smell that clings to things in your environment, like furnishings, curtains and clothing.

Even if a smoker only puffs outside, their clothes and skin will pick up the smell of the smoke and transfer it to the interior of your home.

Inspiring Smokers to Stop

Speaking about secondhand smoke facts is a good way for you to discourage smokers from smoking in your home and workplace (although many workplaces have already put rules in place to assist with this). This could be just the nudge they need to quit. Never forget that your health and the health of those you love are at stake when breathing other people’s smoke.

By Debbie Roome


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke. Available at: Accessed: May 27, 2011

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke. Available at: Accessed: May 27, 2011

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 16 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 05 Feb 2015