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Second Hand Smoke

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What is Second Hand Smoke?

Second hand smoke is the tobacco smoke that non-smokers inhale. It can come from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. It consists of two types of smoke:

  • Mainstream smoke is the smoke inhaled by the smoker into his/her mouth and lungs, then exhaled back into the air around him/her.
  • Sidestream smoke is the smoke released into the air from the lit end of tobacco products. ETS consists mostly of sidestream smoke.

Smoke particles are very small and can remain in the air for up to 24 hours. Smoke particles also travel throughout heating and air-conditioning systems and can be found in rooms of a building far from where someone has smoked. Smoke particles are also found on the clothing and hair of people who smoke.

What are the effects of second hand smoke?

Smoking kills.

We have known the dangers of active smoking for many years. Smoking has been linked to lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchitis. Only recently have we learned about the dangers of second hand smoke.

Children who are exposed to second hand smoke (usually by the smoking habits of their parents) are more likely to develop:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory Tract Infections
  • Chronic Cough
  • Ear Infections
  • Increased Urinary Frequency
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Behavioral Problems
  • High Cholesterol Levels
  • Slow Rate of Lung Growth
  • Lung Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer

Children who live in a home with a person who smokes are more likely to become smokers themselves.

Studies done on children with asthma have found that when these young children were exposed to second hand smoke, they:

  • developed asthma at an earlier age.
  • had more frequent symptoms.
  • had more severe symptoms.
  • needed more medication to control symptoms.
  • went to the emergency room more often.
  • were hospitalized more often.
  • had damaged airways and decreased lung function.
  • had a higher rate of death.

How to avoid second hand smoke:

  • Do not smoke yourself. Smoking is addictive and hard for some people to quit. There are many new methods to help people quit. A free computer program Freedom From Smoking ® Online, is available from the American Lung Association. Talk with your doctor if you are interested in quitting. If you do not have a computer at home you may be able to use a public library computer.
  • Do not allow smoking in your house, even when your child is not there. This applies to guests and family members. Even when your child is away or outside the smoke will linger and your child will inhale it when he/she returns. Many parents think they can smoke in one part of the house and it will not affect their child. However, because smoke particles are very small they can remain in the air and travel throughout the house, especially when  heaters or air-conditioners are being used.
  • Do not allow smoking in the car.
  • If you smoke, change your clothes before being around your child. The smoke will be in/on your clothes and can affect your child's breathing.
  • Smoking has been banned in restaurants in Virginia and North Carolina as well as several other states. Avoid restaurants that allow smoking when you are traveling to states that have not yet banned smoking. 
  • Do not let your child stay with a babysitter who smokes. Not all states have regulations on smoking in day care centers and only a few require day care centers to be smoke-free. Ask about the smoking policy before enrolling your child in a day care center.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 10/2012

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