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There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke  (SHS) indoors is to prohibit all smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to SHS.

Secondhand Smoke: Headliner

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke (SHS) is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). It’s a mixture of 2 forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco:

  • Mainstream smoke: The smoke exhaled by a smoker.

  • Sidestream smoke: Smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, or tobacco burning in a hookah. 

Non-smokers who breathe in SHS take in nicotine and toxic chemicals the same way smokers do. The more SHS you breathe, the higher the levels of these harmful chemicals in your body.

smoke coming from cigar

Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke


Secondhand contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 that can cause cancer. SHS causes lung cancer even in people who have never smoked.

In adults, there’s also some evidence suggesting it might be linked to cancers of the: larynx, pharynx, nasal sinuses, brain, bladder, rectom, stomach and breast.

It’s possibly linked in children to lymphoma, leukemia, liver cancer and brain tumors


SHS affects the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke in non-smokers. Some studies have linked SHS to mental and emotional changes, too. For instance, some studies have shown that exposure to SHS is linked to symptoms of depression.

Doctor taking blood pressure of older patient

Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Children

Young children are most affected by SHS and least able to avoid it. Most of their exposure to SHS comes from adults (parents or others) smoking at home. Studies show that children whose parents smoke:

  • Get sick more often

  • Have more lung infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia)

  • Are more likely to cough, wheeze, and have shortness of breath

  • Get more ear infections

  • Trigger asthma attacks, make asthma symptoms worse, and even cause new cases of asthma in kids who didn’t have symptoms before.

Some of these problems might seem small, but they can add up quickly. Think of the expenses, doctor visits, medicines, lost school time, and often lost work time for the parent who must stay home with a sick child. And this doesn’t include the discomforts that the child goes through.

In very young children, SHS also increases the risk for more serious problems, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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Where Can Secondhand Smoke Be A Problem?

Secondhand smoke is a problem anywhere smoking is allowed including, but not limited to:

  • At work

  • In public places

  • At home

  • In the car

According to the American Association of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure to tobacco smoke is to ban smoking activity.

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Can secondhand smoke harm your animals too?


Dogs, cats, birds and other companion animals can be hurt by tobacco smoke in multiple ways. When a person smokes, animals breathe in the secondhand smoke just like people do and chemicals from the secondhand smoke can also settle on fur and feathers. Continue reading below to learn how smoke may be hurting your pet.


Birds, Hamsters, Mice and other Pets

Information taken from "Secondhand Smoke and Your Pets" by Journeyworks Publishing.

Secondhand Smoke: Team Members


  • Dogs who live with smokers are more likely to get lung cancer and nasal cancer than dogs who live with nonsmokers.

  • Dogs with shorter noses (such as boxers) have the highest risk of lung cancer. Dogs with longer noses (such as greyhounds) have a higher risk of nasal cancer.

  • Dogs may also have a reaction to secondhand smoke that is similar to flea or food allergies- causing them to scratch or chew their skin.

Secondhand Smoke: Headliner


  • Cats living in a home with smokers have more than twice the risk of feline lymphoma (a deadly form of cancer).

  • Cats exposed to secondhand smoke may have higher rates of oral cancer. Some experts believe this is because toxins from the smoke get on the fur. Then, when the cat grooms, toxins get into the mouth.

  • Living with a smoker may also contribute to breathing problems, lung inflammation and asthma in cats.

Secondhand Smoke: Headliner


  • Birds exposed to secondhand smoke can develop eye problems and respiratory problems like coughing and wheezing.

  • When a bird is handled by someone who smokes, he or she can get contact dermatitis (most likely from the nicotine on the smoker's hands). This can cause a bird to pull out its feathers.

  • Hamsters, mice, rates and other pets may also have an increased risk of cancer and other health problems if they breathe tobacco smoke.

Secondhand Smoke: Headliner
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