More than 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and has no smell. So, even if you are careful to avoid smoking in the same room as them or open a window when you smoke, they will still breathe in harmful chemicals. This puts them at greater risk of developing meningitis, cancer, bronchitis and pneumonia.

What is secondhand smoke?

Every time you light a cigarette, it produces smoke, most of which you inhale when you take a draw on it. Some of this smoke gets exhaled again, however, and this along with smoke from the lit end of the cigarette can be breathed in by other people. This is secondhand smoke.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which highly toxic, including;

  • Arsenic, which is found in rat poison
  • Benzene, which is found in petrol fumes and can cause leukaemia
  • Cyanide, which is poisonous and is an industrial pollutant

Cigarette smoke also contains more than 50 known carcinogens, which can cause many cancers including of the lungs, mouth, kidney, liver and stomach.

For more information on the health effects of cancer, read our page on the benefits of quitting.

Secondhand smoke and children

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke because they breathe more rapidly and their lungs and immune system are less developed.

Every time a child breathes in secondhand smoke, they are inhaling thousands of chemicals, putting them at risk of serious health problems, including meningitis and cancer, as well as respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

It’s not just the health effects of secondhand smoke that can harm your children though. Almost three quarters of children whose parents smoke worry that their mum or dad will die as a result of smoking. Children whose parents smoke are also three times more likely to smoke themselves when they grow up. By quitting, you are setting a positive example which could help protect your child’s health for the rest of their life.

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