Second-hand smoke

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Second-hand smoke is harmful for babies and children. Learn tips on keeping your home 100% smoke-free.

Key points

  • Second-hand smoke comes from a smoker's exhale and from a burning cigarette, cigar or pipe.
  • Children frequently exposed to second-hand smoke may develop asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections.
  • Children who commonly breathe second-hand smoke may also develop asthma-like symptoms like cough, wheezing and shortness of breath.
  • The best way to reduce your family's risk is to keep your home 100% smoke-free.
  • If a family member smokes, create a "smokers' corner" outside for them to use.

Second-hand smoke is smoke that comes from:

  • a smoker’s exhale
  • a burning cigarette, cigar or pipe

There are 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. Fifty of these chemicals cause cancer (carcinogens). These chemicals are also linked to diseases like asthma, heart disease and emphysema.

Second-hand smoke affects unborn babies

When a pregnant woman inhales second-hand smoke, nicotine enters her blood. This decreases blood flow to the baby. This affects the baby’s:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • digestive system
  • central nervous system

Babies and children are vulnerable too

The lungs of babies and children are small and still developing. They tend to breathe more quickly. As a result, they breathe in more unsafe chemicals compared to adults. Also, their immune systems are not yet robust enough to protect their bodies from the harmful tobacco smoke.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can affect a baby's growth and may lead to low birth weight.

Babies who breathe in second-hand smoke are at higher risk of developing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Frequent exposure to second-hand smoke leads to many health issues in children. These include:

Second-hand smoke may damage a child’s ability to think things through. A recent study links second-hand smoke to lower test scores in reading, math and problem-solving.

Living with a smoker: Minimizing your family's risk to second-hand smoke

The simplest way to reduce your family’s exposure to second-hand smoke is to keep your home 100% smoke-free. This is particularly important if you or a family member chooses to smoke.

Making your home smoke-free

  • Create a "smokers' corner" outside for smokers to use.
  • Ask your children’s caregivers not to smoke around them.
  • Ask anyone who is doing work inside your home not to smoke indoors.
  • Post a "smoke-free" sticker or magnet on your fridge.
  • Remove ashtrays from your house.
  • If you live in a multi-unit apartment, use foam or insulation to close gaps around pipes and vents.

Making your car smoke-free

  • Clean the inside of your car well, especially if someone has smoked inside it.
  • Let all passengers know that your car is smoke-free.
  • Fill your car’s ashtray with change or potpourri.
  • Hang a "smoke-free" sign in your car so everyone knows it is smoke-free.

Talking to a family member who wants to smoke in the home

Trying to make your home smoke-free with a member who smokes is not easy. As a temporary compromise, demand they smoke only in a room away from the children. Ask them to smoke out on the balcony if you have one. Remember, these are compromises. This does not eliminate your family’s risk and exposure to second-hand smoke. If they are annoyed about going outside to smoke, remind them of the reasons why you want a smoke-free home. You have to think about your family’s health.

Last updated: November 10th 2011