The dangers of secondhand smoke

The dangers of secondhand smoke

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. When you smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products, you inhale harmful chemicals and increase your risk of lung cancer. Even if you don’t smoke, secondhand smoke can still be harmful to you.

Secondhand smoke is when a nonsmoker breathes in the smoke and is exposed to harmful chemicals. This exposure can happen at home, in the workplace or other public places. Some municipal and state governments have laws in place that ban smoking in public places.

The National Cancer Institute reports that there are over 7,000 chemicals found in secondhand smoke, with at least 69 of these chemicals being known to lead to cancer.

“Secondhand smoke contains toxic chemicals that are connected to lung cancer and other health concerns,” says Dr. Mohammed H. Mohammed, a pulmonologist at Aurora Health Care. “There are numerous harmful carcinogens, or known cancer causing chemicals, found in secondhand smoke.”

There is not a safe amount of exposure to secondhand smoke – with even the smallest levels of secondhand smoke presenting harm. Along with lung cancer, secondhand smoke exposure can also cause complications such as asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses and nasal irritation.

Dr. Mohammed shares that while secondhand smoke affects anyone exposed to it, it is especially important for children, those who are pregnant, people who have existing respiratory conditions, or other vulnerable populations to avoid this smoke.

While there are factors that may be outside of your control, Dr. Mohammed shares tips for protecting you and your loved ones from secondhand smoke:

  • Maintain a smoke free home and car
  • Choose public places that are smoke free
  • Talk to friends and family about the dangers of smoking tobacco

You can also try to kindly ask that those around you not to smoke. If you do smoke, consider becoming smoke free or limit smoking to outside only and when others are not around.

Take a free online quiz to learn more about your risk for lung cancer.

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  1. I am wondering what can be done if you don’t have control over the environment. For example, I have a neighbor that sits on his front steps and smokes several times a day. I walk the dog past this neighbor at least once a day, so even though it’s outside, I still am exposed to that secondhand smoke. How can I protect myself when I am outside and unexpectedly encounter someone in my path that is smoking?

    • There’s little we can do when we are exposed to secondhand smoke in public. I get exposed everyday I go out in public. I wish smokers were more considerate of others but it just doesn’t seem to matter about the health of others who don’t smoke.

  2. What about smoke from a fire pit?

  3. Any indication that long term exposure to second hand smoke contributes to pancreatic cancer?

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About the Author

Hannah Koerner
Hannah Koerner

Hannah Koerner is a Public Affairs Specialist with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. In her free time, she enjoys biking, snowshoeing, and cheering on Wisconsin sports teams.