Passive smoking explained

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When you smoke a cigarette (or anything else), most of the smoke doesn’t go into your lungs. It goes into the air around you instead, where it can be breathed in by anyone nearby. This “secondhand smoke” is dangerous for everyone, but especially for children. When other people breathe it in, it is called passive smoking.

Increased risk of disease

Passive smoking increases the risk of getting the same diseases as smokers. These include lung cancer and heart disease.

Pregnant women who breathe in secondhand smoke are more prone to premature birth. Their baby is at more risk of low birthweight and sudden infant death syndrome (cot death).

It gives children a higher risk of breathing problems, asthma and allergies. They are also more likely to develop chest infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis), meningitis, ear infections, coughs and colds.

Protecting loved ones

The best way to protect your family and friends is to give up smoking.

Most secondhand smoke is invisible and does not smell. It can hang around indoors for two or three hours, spreading from room to room.

Just smoking in another room or near an open door or window is not enough to protect people.

Children are particularly at risk from smoking in vehicles, and it is against the law to smoke in a car (or other vehicle) carrying someone under 18.

If you are not ready to quit, just make sure you never smoke indoors or in a vehicle with others. Vaping is a much less dangerous alternative.

Key sources & further reading

NHS Live Well: Passive smoking

31 March, 2023