Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand tobacco smoke (SHS) has been linked with health problems such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung disease, lung cancer and some other cancers. Infant or childhood exposure to SHS can lead to upper respiratory infections, breathing problems, ear infections and even behavioral problems and learning difficulties. Pregnant women exposed to SHS have increased risk of having a baby born too small, too soon or having a baby die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Exposure to SHS is a preventable cause of many illnesses and deaths. Policies to stop smoking indoors reduce exposure to SHS, can reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and increase the number of smokers who quit.

In fact, many smokers choose to quit to protect their family members, friends, co-workers and others from the health hazards of SHS.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from a lit tobacco product, including the smoke that comes from the burning end and the smoke exhaled by the person smoking. Secondhand aerosol is the smoke-like cloud that comes from an e-cigarette or vaping product. This emission is known to contain hazardous chemicals.

Health Hazards

The 2014 Surgeon General's Report added stroke to the health problems known to be caused by SHS. Get more facts about SHS.

Secondhand Smoke and Smoking During Pregnancy Expose Infants and Young Children to Lead

Smoking and Lead Exposure in NC Children 2019 (From Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic) (PDF, 5.6 MB)

The Surgeon General’s Report on Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke (2006)

The U.S. Surgeon General released a report in 2006 called The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke which explains all the known health risks of SHS and states, "there is no known safe level of exposure to SHS."

Major Conclusions of the Surgeon General's Report

  1. SHS causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
  2. Exposed children have increased risk for:
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
    • Acute respiratory infections
    • Ear problems
    • More severe asthma
  3. Parents' smoking impacts their children by:
    • Causing respiratory symptoms
    • Slowing lung growth
  4. Exposing adults to SHS causes:
    • immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system
    • coronary heart disease
    • lung cancer
  5. The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to SHS.
  6. Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are still exposed to SHS in their homes and workplaces.
  7. Eliminating indoor smoking fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to SHS.
  8. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposure to SHS.