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Secondhand and thirdhand smoke

  • Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke coming from the burning tips of cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and smoke exhaled by smokers.

    Anyone around secondhand smoke breathes in the chemicals from the tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke causes death and disease in people who do not smoke.

    Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind after secondhand smoke.

    It is what you smell on your clothes, hair, furniture or in the car. Thirdhand smoke is also the brown film on the walls.

    No amount is safe

    No amount of secondhand smoke is safe. The Environmental Protection Agency lists secondhand smoke as a known cause of cancer in people.

    • Cigarette smoke has more than 7,000 chemical compounds.
    • The National Toxicology Program estimates that at least 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke are known to be toxic or cause cancer .

    Poisonous gases and chemicals in secondhand smoke include:

    • hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons)
    • carbon monoxide (in car exhaust)
    • butane (used in lighter fluid)
    • ammonia, and
    • toluene (found in paint thinners)

    Toxic metals in secondhand smoke include:

    • arsenic (used in pesticides)
    • lead
    • chromium (used to make steel)
    • cadmium (used to make batteries)

    How secondhand smoke affects adults

    Secondhand smoke can cause health problems for adults who do not smoke. Each year, secondhand smoke causes:

    • about 3,000 lung cancer deaths
    • about 35,000 to 62,000 heart disease deaths

    Breathing secondhand smoke can:

    • irritate and damage the lining of the airways
    • trigger symptoms such as a cough, phlegm, wheezing and breathlessness

    How secondhand smoke affects children

    Secondhand smoke can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), breathing problems, and asthma attacks in babies and children.

    It causes:

    • between 150,000 to 300,000 infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) in children younger than 18 months old.
    • between 1,900 and 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. each year.

    Among children aged 3 to 11 years old:

    • nearly 6 in 10 children (60 percent) are exposed to secondhand smoke
    • about 1 in 4 children (25 percent) live with at least one adult who smokes

    Children are also at a high risk to be exposed to thirdhand smoke. Children touch and crawl around surfaces that have chemicals on them from smoke.

    How to protect yourself and your family from secondhand smoke

    According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the only way to protect your family from secondhand smoke is to live in a smoke-free environment.

    • Make your home and car smoke-free.
    • Ask people not to smoke around you and your child(ren).
    • Check on the smoking policies of home daycare providers.
    • Share information with other parents about the health risks of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
    • Teach your child to stay away from tobacco products and secondhand smoke.
    • If an adult in your home smokes, only allow smoking outside.
    • Wear a jacket or an overshirt when smoking then take it off when you are done. This reduces thirdhand smoke but it doesn't get rid of it.

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