Second Hand Smoke

 Surgeon General’s Inforgraphics on Second Hand SmokeSecond Hand Smoke 

Second hand smoke occurs when someone uses and exhales tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, and the smoke is then inhaled involuntarily by others.

Health Effects

  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer.
  • Since 1964 it is estimated that 2.5 million deaths are attributed in the U.S. to health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Globally, more than a third of all people are regularly exposed to the harmful effects of smoke.
  • Separating smokers and nonsmokers within the same air space may reduce, but does not eliminate, exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke. 
  • Tobacco residue remains in the area even after the smoker has left the area. This residue is referred to as third hand smoke or residual smoke and also poses health risks to those who are exposed.
  • In the U.S., secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually among nonsmokers. 
  • Secondhand smoke exposure increases the risk for lung cancer by 30 percent in nonsmokers.

Seniors and Children Are Especially Susceptible

  • In the U.S., secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 150,000 - 300,000 annual cases of bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Exposure risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is 2.5 times greater for infants exposed to secondhand smoke. 
  • Second hand smoke is responsible for 40-60% of asthma cases for children between two months and two years of age.
    For children with established asthma, second hand smoke causes additional episodes and increases its severity.

Do You Smell Smoke?

Used by permission ©(2016) American Lung Association.


What Environmental Health Professionals are Doing

Environmental Health professionals conduct a variety of activities to control tobacco exposure, such as:

  • Investigate - Complaints and sample environments that may have unhealthy levels.
  • Enforce - Many municipalities across the county prohibit smoking in public places, so EH professionals enforce local codes, ordinances, and statutes restricting tobacco use. While there are not well-established exposure limits for tobacco smoke, there are many exposure limits for specific chemicals within tobacco smoke. Some of these chemicals have exposure limits for occupational settings.
  • Educate - Environmental Health agencies provide many educational resources and programs in awareness and tobacco cessation. They spearhead health campaigns to prevent illness and injury. Read about what local environmental health agencies are doing for their communities. 

Emerging Issues


NEHA Resources

World Environmental Health Day - Celebrate with NEHA on September 26, 2016. This year's theme is tobacco control and NEHA is focusing specifically on the negative health effects of second and third hand smoke to both individuals and societies. Help us raise awareness of the environmental health implications of tobacco use. 

World Environmental Health Day Graphics with Infant and Puppy

Learn More about Third-Hand Smoke and Tobacco and Environmental Health.


Additional Resources

Secondhand smoke infographic on group exposureCDC Vital Signs