The Risks of Secondhand Smoke

Homes where one member of the family smokes cigarettes or other tobacco products bring serious risk to the health of all the home’s occupants, especially children and infants. Each year thousands of children are hospitalized due to the effects of secondhand smoke, including asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), pneumonia, ear infections, and bronchitis.

It is said that 50-67 percent of children under the age of five live in homes where at least one adult is a smoker.  The tobacco smoke not only contaminates the air, it also lingers in the carpet, curtains, furniture, clothing, and hair. With more than 4,000 different chemicals identified in the smoke, and at least 43 that cause cancer, environmental tobacco smoke is a severely dangerous health hazard to both children and adults.

Research and studies have shown that there are drastic effects of secondhand smoke during each level of infant and child development.

Fetus and Newborn

Studies have shown that maternal, fetal, and placental blood flow change when a pregnant women smokes. Birth defects such as cleft lip or palates are common, as is low birth weights. Smoking mothers often produce less milk and maternal smoking is linked with SIDS, a major cause of death of infants.


Secondhand smoke can lead to decreased lung efficiency, impaired lung function, and increased risk of asthma. It can also aggravate conditions such as sinusitis, rhinitis, cystic fibrosis, and chronic respiratory problems. Exposure to tobacco smoke also increases the risk of colds and sore throats.


Tobacco smoke irritates the Eustachian tube of the ear, causing swelling and obstruction, and interfering with the pressure equalization of the middle ear. This causes pain, fluid, and infection. The subsequent increase in the number and duration of ear infections is a leading cause in hearing loss.


Exposure to secondhand smoke, especially from women who smoke during pregnancy, is linked to a increased risk of hyperactivity and intellectual impairment.

With the ever-increasing number of health risks associate with tobacco smoke, it is imperative to lower the levels of this respirable particle within the home.

The biggest step to protecting children and other household members from the dangers of second hand smoke is to make your home and car smoke-free environments. At the very least, if you do choose to smoke, make sure that you smoke outside. Simply opening a window or moving to another room does not reduce the level of secondhand smoke contamination. Make sure that any family, visitors, and childcare providers also respect your smoke-free environment. The biggest, and safest, prevention strategy is to quit, or help any adult smoker in the home to quit. Consult your physician for help if needed.

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