Cancer is a general term for more than 100 diseases caused by uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth and death. The four most common cancers affect the breasts, colon or rectum, lungs and prostate.
Lung cancer is a tumor of abnormal cells that reproduce rapidly and do not grow into normal lung tissue. To prevent most lung cancer cases, all you need to do is stop smoking – or never start.
Heart disease is a general term that refers to a number of conditions that affect the heart. When something goes wrong with your heart, it could be related to blood flow, how your heart pumps, your heart rhythm, with the blood vessels, the valves, or a birth defect. Learn more in our heart health manual.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexplainable death of a baby younger than 12 months old. These babies appear to be healthy yet die when they are asleep.
An ear infection (otitis media) affects your child's middle ear (behind the eardrum). It can be caused by a bacteria or virus and often follows an upper respiratory infection (such as a cold).
Asthma is a breathing disorder that causes the small airways in your child's lungs to become inflamed or swollen. This makes it hard for your child to breathe. During an asthma attack, your child may cough, wheeze and have a hard time breathing.
- Guide for the Care of Children: Secondhand smoke
- Making the decision to quit tobacco
- Smoking: Tips on how to quit
Tobacco-Free Support for Allina Hospitals & Clinics
Gain support from others in their journey to quit smoking.
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.
Nonsmokers who are around secondhand smoke breathe in the chemicals from the tobacco smoke, even if it can't be seen. The smell of smoke is the best way to know it is in the area.
Breathing in secondhand smoke is known as involuntary because adults and children either do not want to breathe the smoke or because they do not have a choice. Secondhand smoke causes death and disease in nonsmokers.
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, National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer list 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.
Research shows that secondhand smoke has more than 50 chemicals known to 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)
- toluene (found in paint thinners).
Toxic metals in secondhand smoke include:
- arsenic (used in pesticides)
- chromium (used to make steel)
- cadmium (used to make batteries).
How it affects adults
Breathing secondhand smoke can cause respiratory (breathing) problems. Secondhand smoke can:
- quickly irritate and damage the lining of the airways
- trigger symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheezing and breathlessness.
How it affects children
Secondhand smoke causes between 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) in infants and children younger than 18 months old. This leads to between 7,500 and 15,000 hospital stays each year.
- Secondhand smoke causes between 1,900 and 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. each year.
- Secondhand smoke puts children at an increased risk for ear infections.
- Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks and make asthma attacks worse.
Children are more exposed to secondhand smoke than adults. Among children aged 3 to 11 years old:
- nearly 60 percent (about 22 million children) are exposed to secondhand smoke
- about 25 percent of children live with at least one smoker.
About 50 to 75 percent of children have detectable levels of cotinine (a chemical the body makes from nicotine) in their blood.
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 100 percent smoke-free environments.
Separating smokers from nonsmokers, opening a window or cleaning the air does not get rid of secondhand smoke exposure, or even lower it by much. You can help protect your family.
The best way to protect the health of your family is to
For help, talk with your health care provider, insurance provider,
or call Allina Class Registration at
about Freedom from Smoking classes.
- Make your home and car smoke-free.
- Ask people not to smoke around you and your child(ren).
- Choose restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free.
- Check on the smoking policies of daycare providers, schools and other caregivers.
- 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 smoking jacket when you smoke. A smoking jacket is an overshirt or jacket you only wear when smoking and then take off when you are done. This only reduces thirdhand smoke; it doesn't get rid of it.
Information adapted from the U.S. Surgeon General's 2006 report 'The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke.' and U.S. Surgeon General's 2010 report 'How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What it Means To You.'
Reviewed by: Allina Patient Education experts
First Published: 06/29/2006
Last Reviewed: 04/14/2011