|Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is commonly called secondhand smoke. Smoke from the burning end of cigarettes, pipes or cigars and smoke exhaled from smokers contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans and animals. It is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the EPA, a rating used for substances proven to cause cancer in humans. (Group A carcinogens also include radon and asbestos.)
Exposure to secondhand smoke, also called involuntary smoking or passive smoking, is concentrated indoors where ETS is often the most significant pollutant. Indoor levels of the particles you may inhale (the “tars” in the cigarettes) from ETS often exceed the national air quality standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for outdoor air.
According to the American Cancer Society, ETS causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths and about 46,000 deaths from heart disease each year in healthy nonsmokers who live with smokers. Nonsmokers living in the household are also more likely to get asthma and other respiratory problems, eye irritation and headaches.
Special risks for infants, children and pregnant women
Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to secondhand smoke. They are more likely to suffer from asthma pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, coughing, wheezing, and increased mucus production.
In infants and children under 18 months of age, secondhand smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). This results in 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations in that age group each year.
Babies living with parents who smoke also have a greater chance of dying of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The ALA estimates that secondhand smoke causes 1,900 to 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. annually.
Pregnant women exposed to passive smoke are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights.
Minimizing exposure to secondhand smoke
- Don’t smoke in your home or permit others to do so.
- If a family member smokes indoors, increase ventilation in the area by opening windows or using exhaust fans.