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What are the risks of exposure to secondhand smoke?

Dr. Joanne M. Foody, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Smoking isn’t just bad for you; it’s bad for the people around you. There is a clear link between secondhand smoke and heart disease. Smoking around your children can have especially severe health consequences. Children of smokers tend to have more lung illnesses, including pneumonia and bronchitis; may develop asthma; and are more likely to develop chest illnesses.

Secondhand smoke is a mix of gases and particles in the air from other people smoking. It contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic. About 70 can cause cancer.It has immediate harmful effects on your blood and blood vessels, which can raise your risk for a heart attack. People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk for a heart attack. Secondhand smoke can also cause a stroke or lead to lung cancer.

Secondhand smoke causes disease and premature death in nonsmoking adults and children. Exposure to secondhand smoke irritates the airways and has immediate harmful effects on a person's heart and blood vessels. It may increase the risk of heart disease by an estimated 25 to 30 percent. In the United States, secondhand smoke is thought to cause about 46,000 heart disease deaths each year. There may also be a link between exposure to secondhand smoke and the risk of stroke and hardening of the arteries; however, additional research is needed to confirm this link.

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more severe asthma. Being exposed to secondhand smoke slows the growth of children's lungs and can cause them to cough, wheeze, and feel breathless.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.