Second-hand smoke

Breathing in other people's smoke is known as exposure to second-hand smoke or passive smoking. When you smoke, it's not just your health that's put at risk, but the health of anyone around you.

Most second-hand smoke comes from the tip of a burning cigarette. This makes it almost impossible to direct smoke away from those around you. If you only smoke in one area of your home the harmful chemicals will spread rapidly from room to room and can linger for up to 5 hours. If you smoke in a confined space such as a car, you're exposing your fellow passengers to even more harmful chemicals. This is why smoking in cars with children on board will be banned in Scotland from December 2016.

Risks to other people

People exposed to second-hand smoke face the same dangers as smokers themselves. They too inhale the same poisonous gases and thousands of toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Their risk of developing smoking-related diseases will also increase.

Pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke will pass on harmful chemicals to their babies. Second-hand smoke is also particularly harmful for children, and others with long-term heart and/or breathing conditions.

Short-term effects

Some short-term effects from exposure to second-hand smoke include:

  • coughing
  • headaches
  • eye and nasal irritation
  • sore throat

Long-term effects

Long-term effects from exposure to second-hand smoke include increased risk of:

  • coronary heart disease (risk increased by 25-30%)
  • lung cancer (risk increased by 20-30%) and other cancers
  • stroke (risk increased by 20-30%)
  • increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other breathing problems

Breathing in second-hand smoke makes the blood stickier, meaning there is an increased risk of blood clots forming, even with brief exposure. A blood clot can block an artery and cause:

  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • angina
  • complete heart failure

In pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke, there is an increased risk of complications during the pregnancy and after the birth. The most likely risk is that your baby could weigh less than expected.

Risks to children

Children breathe faster than adults, which means they take in more of the harmful chemicals in second-hand smoke. They're even more sensitive to smoke than adults because their bodies are young and still developing.

Research shows that babies and children exposed to a smoky atmosphere are likely to have increased risk of:

  • breathing problems, illnesses and infections
  • reduced lung function
  • wheezing illnesses and asthma
  • sudden and unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)
  • certain ear, nose and throat problems, in particular middle ear disease

There is also an increased risk of developing bacterial meningitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and acute respiratory illnesses.

Take it right outside

For further information on how to protect your children from second-hand smoke, visit the Take it Right Outside website.