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What is Secondhand Smoke?

CaringWhen a person smokes near you, you breathe secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of the cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. When you breathe secondhand smoke, it is like you are smoking.

Whether you are young or old, healthy or sick, secondhand smoke is dangerous.


Secondhand smoke contains poisons.

The chemicals found in secondhand smoke hurt your health and many are known to cause cancer. You breathe in thousands of chemicals when you are around someone who is smoking.



No amount of secondhand smoke is safe.

When you are around a person who is smoking, you inhale the same dangerous chemicals as he or she does. Breathing secondhand smoke can make you sick. Some of the diseases that secondhand smoke causes can kill you.

Protect yourself: do not breathe secondhand smoke. But completely avoiding secondhand smoke is very hard to do. Most of us breathe it whether we know it or not. You can breathe secondhand smoke in restaurants, around the doorways of buildings, and at work. When someone smokes inside a home, everyone inside breathes secondhand smoke. Some children even breathe smoke in day care.

There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke. Children, pregnant women, older people, and people with heart or breathing problems should be especially careful. Even being around secondhand smoke for a short time can hurt your health. Some effects are temporary. But others are permanent.


Here are some unexpected ways you may breathe secondhand smoke every day:

  •     Sitting in the “no smoking” section, even if it doesn’t smell smoky
  •      Riding in a car while someone else is smoking, even if a window is open
  •     Being in a house where people are smoking, even if you’re in another room
  •     Working in any restaurant, warehouse, or building that allows smoking inside, even if there is a filter or ventilation system


Information contained in this article has been taken directly from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Secondhand Smoke: What it Means to You. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information:

Go to the Smoking and Tobacco health topic.