How dangerous is secondhand smoke?

How dangerous is secondhand smoke?

A new survey recently reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that 58 million people are still exposed to secondhand smoke (SHS) in the United States even though the number of smokers has declined.

The report found higher rates of exposure among children, blacks, those living in poverty and those living in rental housing.

“Forty percent of children – including seven in 10 black children – are still exposed shows how much more we have to do to protect everyone from this preventable health hazard,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC Director in a press release.

Each year SHS causes more than 41,000 deaths in adults including 400 infant deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The U.S. Surgeon General emphasizes that it is a known fact that secondhand smoke causes respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma attacks in infants and children, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, as well as heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Also, the Surgeon General warns that there is no safe level of exposure to SHS.

Additionally, the report found the following key findings:

  • Two in every five children aged three to 11 years old are exposed to SHS.
  • Nearly half of black nonsmokers are exposed to SHS.
  • More than two in five nonsmokers who live below the poverty level are exposed to SHS.
  • More than one in three nonsmokers who live in rental housing are exposed to SHS.

Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago, can testify to the dangers of secondhand smoke among adults, adolescents and pregnant women.

“I have seen an increase risk for heart disease, lung cancer and stroke in adults who have been exposed to secondhand smoke. Children have become at greater risk of respiratory infections, asthma attacks, ear infections, tooth decay and chronic cough, while pregnant women are at greater risk for miscarriages, premature birth and low birth weight.”

The report also highlights several reasons SHS exposure has declined including state and local laws that have enforced comprehensive smoke-free areas, increase number of families that have adopted voluntary smoke-free rules at home, and cigarette smoking has declined significantly. Also, smoking around nonsmokers has become less socially acceptable.

There are several steps you can take to help prevent being exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Try as much as possible to not be around people who are smoking and encourage others to quit smoking. You can also talk to your local legislatures about smoke-free zones in your community,” says Dr. Hampton.

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  1. Wow, I never knew SHS could cause so many health issues. Thanks for the information!

  2. NO acceptable level of exposure to second-hand smoke. For those people who claim they were raised around it, like many things, your body may not show the effects until you are much older. Why, knowing what we do, would anyone be ok with putting their babies, their children, or their loves ones (let alone strangers) at risk? And for those who keep saying the government WANTS us all to get sick and be ill so they can make money off of our healthcare costs, why do you think they keep emphasizing the health risks from cigarettes, a multi-million dollar industry?

  3. Wait, now second hand smoke is being blamed on tooth decay? Like it was once linked to ear infections. Another lie eventually proven to be false.

    What is a smoke-free zone, Dr. Hampton? Like the outdoors? Proof that zealot activists will pull all the stops to persuade others that they are right.

  4. Children are extremely vulnerable to the ill effects of secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory illness, asthma, middle ear infections, and even tooth decay. – See more at:,21375#sthash.jxMLaKvX.dpuf

  5. I did not know either that it can cause so many problems . My 7 month old niece has chronic ear and sinus infections and both parents smoke. It no sooner clears up then comes back again. Now I understand why.

  6. These claims are highly dubious. My buddy was at a football game in an open-air stadium with an unlit cigar and some guy asks him to put it out because the “smoke” was bothering his wife! Beware of mass hysteria [Children of course are different and should never be exposed to smoke, including fireplaces, camp fires, or

  7. if people want to smoke it’s their business (especially if they are alone or with like minded folks) I agree not around kids. They pay a lot of extra taxes and more for health insurance. The stigma is outrageous and if you think about it, ex-smoker’s that quit 30 years ago and then get lung cancer are as ostrasized as those currently smoking that get it. Personally I think it borders on being a hate crime. We will soon be fat shaming the obese in a more blatant manner. It’s also poor science to lump renters in the stats. It’s more a s-e-s status w/ lower income/education. just my 2 cents.

  8. Ozones,drinking water full of chlorine and furmeldihide and more chems. toilet paper, human waste, pestisides, poor food quality that the farmers grow because they do not replace the proper nutrients in the soil to grow their crops and feed the animals ( more chems) SHS hand smoke has been around for thousands of years. What about the smoke from POT? That gets to people in the area and yet it is being made legal and all of the other drugs that are out there.
    I would not let my children out to play if the sky was orange because I knew the ozone was high. I made them wait until the sky was clear. Who I kidding who on this issue? Dr’s have a big stake in the tobacco stocks. Cigars kill people faster than any cigarette and there SHS is the worst. !!!!!

  9. Let me just ask the author of this article just how many folks are exposed to second hand fuel emissions coming out out of their chosen forms of transportation tailpipe emissions? To tell you the truth I doubt my smoking cigarettes pollutes the atmosphere more in a year than the average driver in an average day behind the wheel. Let’s face it. When carbon based fuels are consumed they don’t give off French Perfume. Granted smoking cigarettes isn’t good for me or anyone else around me but I’ve gotten just a little tired of being picked on.

  10. This smoking trauma you suffer from is getting so hypocritical and hysterical it is out of control and sociopathic as far as I’m concerned. One belch from a city or school bus I’m sure contains more carcinogens then a years worth of one person’s smoking. Now we have discrimination in smoking fees related to health insurance. Is that because smoking is bad for smokers ? Hmm.. does it cause high blood pressure, does it clog arteries, does it increase the risk of stroke ? Apparently so. So does over eating and obesity. Why aren’t we penalizing obese people ? Why ? I think you will find that many of the staff testing for cigarette residue in our health clinics can barely fit on their exam stools. And on and on.

  11. Why is everyone getting so defensive about this study? It’s interesting that you put the blame on something else, like fuel emissions, when this study just focuses on one aspect of harmful “pollution.” But I understand your point to maybe see how different types of smoke/pollution affect our health. That could be an interesting study. All in all, this study just reiterates the obvious, that cigarettes are harmful to smokers and everyone around them!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.