Ultimate Guide to Second Hand Smoke

What is Second Hand Smoke? -Definition

What does second hand smoking mean? And what is the definition of second hand smoke? Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), involuntary or passive smoking. Though it has many names, secondhand smoke by definition, is sidestream smoke (which refers to the smoke coming directly from a burning cigarette) or mainstream smoke mainly (which is the smoke exhaled from smoker’s lungs). When a doctor talks about secondhand smoke, they usually refer to ambient or sidestream smoke. When a cigarette is lit, nearly 80% of its smoke goes into the air, and remainder is inhaled by the smoker. In other words, sidestream smoke is actually more harmful than mainstream smoke.

how bad is second hand smoke

Facts about Secondhand Smoke


Facts About Second Hand Smoke

There are no less than 200 proven harmful substances both in sidestream and mainstream smoke. However, some compounds such as chemical carcinogens and ammonia are  more concentrated in sidestream than in mainstream smoke. For example, the dangerous chemical benzene, has higher concentrations in sidestream smoke. But why is this? As we know, a smoker draws oxygen from the air through the end of a lit cigarette when he or she is going to inhale. This increases the temperature, which in turn reduces the dangerous compounds, either in quantity or quality. Apart from cigarettes, smoking pipe and cigars contribute to secondhand smoke. Actually, compared to cigarettes, a cigar releases more sidestream smoke because a cigar is larger in size.

Second Hand Smoking Statistics

second hand smoking statistics
Second Hand Smoking Statistics

According to statistics, there are about 45 million adults in America, and 21% of them smoke cigarettes. Secondhand smoke, also famous as environmental tobacco smoke, contains many particles and gases that come from cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The toxic chemicals included in secondhand smoke are no less than 250, of which more than 50 can cause cancers. Non-smoking adults can be attacked by many diseases that are caused by secondhand smoke, such as heart disease, lung cancer. Many diseases in children, such as respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), are related to secondhand smoke.

In the United States, up to 126 million nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke in many places, including inside their homes, vehicles, offices, even public places. And people are more likely to have prolonged exposure to tobacco in the home and the workplace. Nearly 60% of children at 3 to 11 years old, are exposed to secondhand smoke.

The Substances Produced by Secondhand Smoking – Second Hand Smoking Facts

second hand smoke facts
Substances of Secondhand Smoke

Just like any other smoke, the one emitted by cigarettes not only has an unpleasant smell, but also irritates your throat and eyes. But why is tobacco smoke so harmful? The answer is in the contents of second hand smoke.

It’s almost impossible to ascertain the exact contents of 2nd hand smoke due to its numerous varieties and changeable ways of smoking. But the influence of contents in secondhand smoke can be looked at from four aspects: tobacco type, added chemicals in tobacco, the rolling paper of a cigarette, and the means of smoking. Although there are more than 4000 chemicals now confirmed in secondhand smoke, the number grows with every new study. The National Cancer Institute has confirmed that there are over 50 kinds of carcinogens present in second hand smoke, including formaldehyde.

Many substances such as carbon monoxide and nicotine contained in secondhand smoke obstruct the performance and development of normal cells by interfering with them. Also, many other insoluble particles released by cigarettes are inhaled by the human body, but these substances can’t be depleted or discharged, they only calculate within human body. In 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency, classified secondhand smoke into Group A, the most serious group of carcinogens. This Group A also includes arsenic, asbestos and mustard gas. The British Medical Journal released a report in August 2004, stating that the air pollution caused by one single cigarette is about 10 times that of a diesel engine. Many serious diseases are caused by secondhand smoking, such as heart disease, and various cancers and so on.

Why We Need to Avoid Second hand Smoking -Effects of Secondhand Smoke

To be straight up, the effects of second hand smoke are very serious. To give understand reasons why we need to avoid second hand smoke, let us get to know the effects and dangers of secondhand smoke to our health.

secondhand smoke facts
Secondhand Smoke Facts. Please note: As the numbers are from different authoritative sources, so it is just a general statistics pic.

Heart Disease

In the United States, heart disease is the number reason for deaths. Of course, heart disease can be caused by other different factors (such as a lack of doing sports or exercise, imbalanced diet and other risks) but secondhand smoke is a prominent one. Passive smoking, according to the American Lung Association, causes about 35,000 to 62,000 cardiovascular-related deaths per year. What is worse, nonsmokers who experience long time exposure to secondhand smoke, have a 25% higher risk of coronary heart disease than those who don’t. So, we have to admit that heart disease is one of the side effects of second hand smoke. Though exposure to smoke speeds up the multiplication of red blood cells, it makes the blood thicken which increases the possibility of strokes and blood clotting. If the oxygen which is going to enter the bloodstreams is increased, the heart has to increase the oxygen circulation; arteries walls are damaged by the quickened blood platelet activity over time, which keeps blood pressure raised and increases stress on the heart.

Cancer – Does Secondhand Smoke Cause Cancer?

Among people aged below 85, cancers are the second significant reason of death. Read on to learn about how cancers have a strong correlation to secondhand smoke.

Lung Cancer

The National Cancer Institute says that there are about 3000 nonsmoker deaths due to lung cancer because of exposure to secondhand smoke. In fact, secondhand smoke, after active smoking and radon gas, comes as the third primary cause of lung cancer. Each year, the death of women caused by lung cancer is higher than that caused by breast cancer. While among men, lung cancer also leads to many premature deaths.

Nasal Sinus Cancer

Nasal sinus cancer is also a respiratory disease, just like lung cancer. The formaldehyde that is discovered in secondhand smoke is considered to be the cause. Although it doesn’t have the  same prevalence as lung cancer, do not underestimate the effects of nasal sinus cancer. Although there has no final conclusions that there have proven links between secondhand smoke and other cancers, many substances found in secondhand smoke are believed causes of many cancers.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): Second Hand Smoke While Pregnant

Let’s talk about the effects of secondhand smoke on infants. Pregnant women who experience prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke can put their bodies at high risk. For example, their babies may have a lower weight post birth than others. In addition, involuntary or passive smoking has been proven to be a cause of SIDS. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 35% SIDS death are attributable to secondhand smoke.


It’s definitely true that a nonsmoker is likely to suffer frequent asthma attacks if they live with a roommate or family member who smokes. In this scenario, it is inevitable to be caught by secondhand smoke constantly even though you have taken some measures to prevent secondhand smoke seeping into your room. Asthma is among the common side effects of second hand smoke and cigarettes or tobacco smoke is a major trigger.

Other Respiratory Diseases

Broadly speaking, secondhand smoke fills the air you breathe and your airways. Pneumonia, sinusitis, post-nasal drip and coughs are common illnesses caused by poor quality air. And secondhand smoke in the air can only trigger and aggravate these discomforts. Sometimes, the ears can also be affected since they have a close relationship to the sinuses. It’s very easy for the Eustachian tube to be infected when people are exposed to secondhand smoke.


So taking all of these horrible diseases that can be influenced by second hand smoke, we can easily understand why it is necessary to avoid it. Now, let’s find some solutions to preventing the second hand smoking problem.

Second Hand Smoke and Children

Research shows that secondhand smoke has damaging effects to children’s health. In many cases, children whose parents smoke can easily get sick frequently. These children’s lungs grow less than those of children who or not in frequent contact with secondhand smoke. And they can be susceptible to ear infections too. Secondhand smoke may cause fluid stuck in their ears constantly, which requires complex operations to drain it out ears. And bronchitis and pneumonia are likely to attack children who are often exposed to secondhand smoke. Coughing and wheezing are also the common symptoms for children who often breathe secondhand smoke. And not only can it trigger asthma attacks, but also make children who already have asthma suffer more severe and more frequent attacks, which can even cause death.

How to Avoid Secondhand Smoke?

Now lets share some tips for how to avoid secondhand smoke. Have you often been bothered by secondhand smoke seeping into your house or apartment from outside? Secondhand smoke can enter your apartment through every possible access. You may resort to backing yourself up by the law, but that  doesn’t work immediately, you will need to find another solution if you continue living there. Perhaps, you can follow these tips to take some proactive action and protect the air in your apartment from secondhand smoke:

1. Locate the accesses of secondhand smoke

It’s very important to find out how secondhand smoke seeps into your apartment. There are many possible access points. Windows, doors, balconies, outdoor patios are obvious openings for secondhand smoke. Inside your house, circulation vents, plumbing, insulation gaps, eaves, ceiling fixtures, electrical outlets and other places are all possible way for secondhand smoke to get in.

2. Kill all Possibilities for entry

No second hand Smoking PLEASE!
No Smoking PLEASE!

Once you get to know where the smoke is getting in, you need to take action:

  • Gaps. Seal all the gaps with proper fillers. Silicone caulks are better for smaller gaps, while insulating foam is suitable for larger ones. Generally, it’s more likely for gaps to appear at the rounded places of light fittings, air vents, plumbing pipes or electrical outlets.
  • Vents. Seal all the vents you don’t use anymore. You can either attach a board larger than the opening or just remove the diffuser.
  • Windows. Windows can be sealed with caulk and weather-stripping, which not only excludes secondhand smoke, but also improves energy efficiency. Also, try to install extractive fans on windows, which will take secondhand smoke out of your apartment and improve poor ventilation effectively (although this requires professional installation).
  • Doors. It’s a very good idea to get draft excluders for doors which open to corridors or other outside places. It not only protects entrances from secondhand smoke, but also blocks dust, insects, pollens and other substances. If your doors don’t have thresholds, install them, and attach weather-stripping.

3. Locate Exit Points, if Possible

If you are fortunate to have cooperative and reasonable neighbors, try to find an appropriate way to make them locate exit points in their apartments. It will go a long way in dealing with the access points in your house.

4. Rectification Actions

Apart from taking proactive steps to deal with secondhand smoke, you also need to seek some rectification. Inform the apartment administrators, or your landlords, or other responsible principals of your problems, and demand their actions to solve the spread of secondhand smoke within the building. Check your lease agreement, building residential regulations and local laws carefully to see whether there is any support for you there. It’s valid to request the smokers to solve this problem or ask for some compensation.

5. Tips and Warnings

1) If your neighbors aren’t cooperative when you are trying to pinpoint sources of secondhand smoke, you can notify your landlord or building management, and seek their help to solve the dispute. But you should make sure you hold enough evidence, either documental or visible.

2) Vents or draining outlets are more likely to draw secondhand smoke into your bathrooms, especially when you rightly have smoking residents living beneath your apartment. In this case, at that time, you may need professional help to fix your plumbing and avoid the smoke.

3) Gaps fillers also will make the air circulation poor, which can cause stuffy indoor air or other health problems. So it’s better to seek advice from professionals before sealing gaps.

4) Any kind of sealing materials are available at hardware shops.

5) As some ventilation systems or other air appliances are not powerful enough to filter secondhand smoke. Though they may remove the odor, secondhand smoke may be intensified by their operation, and lead to health-damaging problems.

6) If you are a tenant, let your landlord know about these problems and make sure every change you make to the apartment is approved by the property owners.

Quick Check:

1. Is second hand smoke bad or dangerous? How bad or Harmful is second hand smoke?

It is detrimental to your health and can cause long term illness and disease.

2. How can I avoid second hand smoke? How can I prevent it?

There are lots of ways you can protect yourself. Find this information in the third part of this post.

3. How many people die from secondhand smoke?

Based on research data from the CDC in 2011, there are over 46,000 people in America who are non-smokers who die of heart disease and 3,000 people who die of lung cancer every year, caused by secondhand smoke exposure primarily.

4. Is second hand smoke worse than first hand?

That depends. Depends on the time and intensity of smoke exposure. Generally speaking, the smokers inhale around 20% smoke (and harmful substances) to their lungs and others were released to the air around. But we can’t say that secondhand smoke is riskier than the first hand, as the quantity of harmful substances that nonsmokers inhale vary in each particular case.

5. Does secondhand smoke cause cancer?

Secondhand smoke could be a very important cause of cancer, especially lung cancer. But cancer could also be caused by other factors, such as heredity factors, exposure to chemical substances, radiation, etc.. But compared with nonsmokers who live without secondhand smoke exposure, those exposed to secondhand smoke have a much higher risk of getting cancer.

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9 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Second Hand Smoke

  1. I feel for the child in the first photograph, it is not only extremely unpleasant to be around smokers but one actually has unpleasant symptoms just from being in the same room, so I can well understand the suffereing of that child. Due to high rents in my city, I have to share a house with a friend who is a chronic chain-smoker. My life is a constant battle against passive smoke until I can afford to move out. My symptoms are tension in the temples and back of the neck and if I am present in the room for more than one cigarette, a burning sensation in the lungs and a feeling of headache which lasts until the next day. If I am able to leave the room politely after one cigarette I can avoid the latter but the smoke drifts round the house and so I will feel tense even if not in the same room as the smoker. I try to go out often and at nights I tape myself in my room and put wet socks under the door. If I don’t do this I will have a headache by morning. I have an air filter in my room and the landlord agrees to have on one in the kitchen when he smokes, which is every 15 minutes all day every day. He agrees that it is for his own health as well as mine, as he is himself living in passive smoke all his life- he hardly goes out- but he is complelely blind to the fact that he is poisoning himself and all around him, In fact he believes that the smoking is keeping him alive and cites 6 examples of people he knows who have given up smoking and then died, So I often am asked to buy his cigarettes as he can’t often reach the shop himself without sitting on the wall with a puffer. There is an additional risk of dropped cigarettes, especially as he smokes through the night. On this, he reassures me that they “always go out” despite the many burn marks on the carpet (and this is someone with a degree from Cambridge university, UK !). My escape route is out onto the flat roof and not to try to rescue unfit 20 stone imbeciles from burning buildings and I have told him this!
    The air in the house is bad as all the fabrics are affected by the smoke. There seems little that can be done for this man and I am trapped in quite a dangerous situation until I can escape, which is extremely unfair for the sake of addiction to Rothman cigarettes!
    But any grown up who subjects their child to passive smoke as in that photo, which seems real- that child is going to be affected even by the time for the photoshoot – are not only bad parents but selfish members of society and also a danger to themselves as well as others, there should be no “human right” to administer poison to oneself and to those around.

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