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Secondhand Smoke

What is Secondhand Smoke?

  • Secondhand smoke (SHS), also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), consists of exhaled smoke from smokers and side stream smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe.
  • Secondhand smoke contains more than 4000 substances, including over 40 compounds that are known to cause cancer; therefore, SHS has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of cancer in humans.
  • In the United States, 21 million, or 35 percent of, children live in homes where residents or visitors smoke in the home on a regular basis.
  • Approximately 50-75 percent of children in the United States have detectable levels of cotinine, the breakdown product of nicotine in the blood.

How does Secondhand Smoke affect a child’s health?


  • Many of the health effects of secondhand smoke, including asthma, are most clearly seen in children because children are most vulnerable to its effects.
  • Most likely, children’s developing bodies make them more susceptible to secondhand smoke’s effects and, due to their small size, they breathe more rapidly than adults thereby taking in more secondhand smoke.
  • ETS is linked with a number of adverse health effects in children (under 18), including:• lower respiratory tract infections (i.e. croup, bronchitis and pneumonia)
    • increased fluid in the middle ear
    • upper respiratory tract irritation
    • additional or new episodes of asthma
    • increased severity of asthmatic symptoms in children
  • Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year, and causes 1,900 to 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the United States annually.
  • According to a study reported recently at the American Thoracic Society’s meeting in San Francisco, healthy children of smokers may experience reduced lung function, which could progressively worsen with continued exposure.
  • Many studies have shown that children of smokers have more breathing problems than children of non-smokers, but until now it’s been unclear whether lung function is impaired in children of smokers who don’t have any breathing complaints or diagnosed lung problems like asthma.
  • Researchers assessed the lung function of 244 children aged 4 to 12 without any lung or airway disease and found that children of smoking parents had significantly reduced lung function.

Can smoking while pregnant affect the unborn child?

  • Maternal smoking can affect the fetus and the outcome of the pregnancy. Smoking deprives the fetus of needed oxygen and other nutrients. This may result in:• deficits in intellectual ability and behavioral problems
    • low birth weight or intra-uterine growth retardation
    • spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)
    • stillbirth
    • reduced lung function in the baby
    • complications in pregnancy

What can I do to help my child avoid exposure to Secondhand Smoke?

  • Stop smoking, if you do smoke. Consult your physician for help, if needed. There are many new pharmaceutical products available to help you quit.
  • If you have household members who smoke, help them stop. If it is not possible to stop their smoking, ask them, and visitors, to smoke outside of your home.
  • But remember, when they come back into the home the smoke is present on their clothes.
  • Do not allow smoking in your car.
  • Be certain that your children’s schools and day care facilities are smoke free.
  • Do not allow baby-sitters, caregivers or others who work in your home to smoke in your house or near your children.