Secondhand Smoke

Download the Secondhand Smoke – What You Need to Know PDF.


What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke, is the mixture of gases and fine particles from burning tobacco products. It can contain 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. Breathing in secondhand smoke can lead to disease and premature death in those who do not smoke.

What is the impact of secondhand smoke?

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for 49,000 deaths a year, including the death of 46,000 non-smokers.

Exposure to secondhand smoke at home or work increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease by 25-30 percent and lung disease by 20-30 percent. Secondhand smoke exposure can also trigger respiratory symptoms and cause asthma exacerbations.

Children who are continuously exposed to smoke may develop asthma or experience asthma symptoms, and are also at increased risk for ear infections, lower respiratory infections and overall decreased lung function. Infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke can be connected to more than 400 SIDS deaths each year.

How common is exposure to secondhand smoke?

Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in the home and workplace. In the U.S., more than 126 million people who don’t smoke are exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles and other public places.

Nearly 35 percent of children live with a smoker. This rate is often higher for low-income and black children. Making your home smoke-free can significantly reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and is one of the most important steps you can take for the health of your children and family.

What is being done about secondhand smoke exposure?

Thirty-nine states and more than 1,000 cities and counties in the U.S. have already passed smoke-free air laws, and the numbers continue to grow.

On January 1, 2008, Illinois became the 22nd smoke-free state. The Smoke-free Illinois Act prohibits smoking in public places, places of employment, governmental vehicles and within 15 feet of any entrance to a public place or place of employment. The law creates a floor for smoke-free laws, allowing local communities to enact or retain stronger laws, but not allow weaker laws.