Secondhand Smoke Explained 2018-10-11T08:03:46+00:00

Secondhand Smoke Explained

young female smoking while driving inside the car

The distinction between sidestream and mainstream smoke

Passive smoking is made of two types of smoke-mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke.

  • The mainstream smoke is what smokers exhale. The fumes contain fewer toxins making it less harmful than sidestream but the quantity exhaled by smokers makes it dangerous.
  • The sidestream smoke is the fumes coming from the end of a lit cigarette. It has more carcinogens than mainstream smoke that makes it more toxic. Due to the small particles, the smoke can reach the lungs of non-smokers easily.
Research suggests that particles from secondhand smoke can eventually settle into dust and remain in that state for extended periods of time. Some scientists refer to these particles as thirdhand smoke. The effects these chemicals have on the body are not yet fully tested, however, researchers have discovered the presence of carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in samples of dust taken from houses of smokers.

Is secondhand smoke worse than first-hand?

Most people wonder if inhaling fumes passively is worse than smoking. It is as dangerous as first-hand smoking. The mist carries the same carcinogens as first-hand smoke that is considered hazardous.

Studies show that the gas produced by cigarettes is one of the causes of heart diseases and lung cancer among non-smokers. This indicates that even though fumes inhaled by nonsmokers is not as concentrated as much as that smokers inhale, the dangers associated with the smoke cannot be ignored.

Secondhand smoke myths

Most people think they have done everything possible to protect themselves and others from second hand smoke. There are some myths going around concerning passive smoking.

With different types of information going around on secondary smoke, it is common to find that some of the information is misleading.

Myths that have been set straight:

  1. Smoking in a different room is safe for non-smokers.

Fact: Even if a person smokes in a different room, the gases can pass through cracks, vents and other openings, and reach other people.
This means that smoking in the next room still puts the non-smoker at risk of inhaling the smoke involuntarily.

  1. Using air purifiers will protect people from passive smoke

Fact: Getting an air filter or purifier does not mean that you have removed anything except the smell. Most of the filters only eliminate the smell of cigarettes.
This means that you will inhale the fumes even if you have an air filter or purifier.

  1. Using a fan or opening a window gets rid of the second hand smoke.

Fact: No level of ventilation can get rid of cigarette fumes and all its residue.
Proper ventilation will reduce the irritation caused by the gases inhaled but will not get rid of all the toxins released from the lit cigarette.

  1. Unborn babies are not affected by cigarette fumes in the womb.

Fact: NCBI studies show that there are several toxic chemicals in cigarettes that can affect the health of the unborn child. These chemicals affect normal growth and development of the unborn child.
It increases the risk of the child being born prematurely, stillbirths and the baby being born with congenital disabilities.

  1. Smoking when no one is around is safer for everyone.

Fact: Cigarette smoke lingers in the air even after the cigarette is off.
This means that those who smoke in the home and the car still put others at risk of exposure.

Where can you be exposed?


Despite being extremely careful, people still involuntarily breathe in cigarette fumes.

Even with regulations in place, passive smoking still occurs at workplaces, public places like restaurants and parks among other social venues.

Toxin levels are higher in enclosed spaces due to the limited air supply. It makes it more dangerous since people inhale more of the toxic gases than in open areas.

Due to the increased number of places where you can get exposed to cigarette fumes from cigarettes, the government is encouraging people to avoid smoking at home, schools and in cars.

Effects of secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoking carries most of the same dangers as regular smoking. The same carcinogenic chemicals that are found in regular smoke also exist in second hand smoke. While the rate of some at which a non-smoker is exposed to smoke is lower than that of a smoker it is by no means negligible.

The extent to which secondhand smoke plays a factor in lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases amongst non-smokers is troubling to say the least.

Studies indicate that every year as many as 42,000 cases of heart disease amongst non-smokers are related to secondhand smoke. Every year 7,000 cases of lung cancer deaths amongst non-smoking adults can be attributed to secondhand smoke.

Side effects of exposing secondhand smoke:

  • Irritation

Some people get irritated by cigarette fumes, and even a little exposure can trigger their allergies. Those with respiratory infections like asthma can get attacks when exposed to these gases which can be fatal.

  • Weak immune system

People who inhale cigarette clouds on a regular basis can weaken their immune system. The toxins found in the tobacco puts them at risk of developing infections like asthma.

  • Increased risk of getting cancers

Getting exposed to tobacco smoke on a regular basis puts people at a higher risk of suffering from throat cancer, lung cancer, and other cancers. The risk is the same as that of smokers.

  • Heart disorders

Chemicals in tobacco are also known to increase the risk of developing heart disorders. Exposure to cigarette fumes increases the risk of getting a heart attack as much as first-hand smoke.

  • Fertility problems

Smoke from tobacco cigarettes is known to affect the fertility of women. Women who were continuously exposed to the smoke had a harder time getting pregnant. Those who managed to get pregnant and continued passively smoking had a higher risk to miscarry more than once.

Secondhand fumes and children

secondhand fumes and children

Adults can limit their exposure to passive smoke. Children cannot.
Exposure to it does not only affect adults and unborn children but affects children after they are born. Children are highly sensitive to the toxins found in tobacco and getting exposed to these carcinogens can cause the following physical and mental health problems.

  • The toxins compromise the immune system which makes them more prone to suffering from infections like colds.
    The child is likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory infections.
  • According to the CDC, exposure to the mist produced during smoking can increase their chances of getting ear infections. These infections can have severe effects on the child’s health especially if they are not treated early, or they keep inhaling the toxins on a regular basis.
  • Studies also revealed that toxins found in tobacco has been linked to several cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome which is where the child sleeps and does not wake up. There is no specific cause of SIDS, but newborn babies exposed to these toxins have a higher rate.

Minimizing the Risk

The risks of passive smoking increase proportionately with the amount of smoke you are exposed to, although there is no safe level of exposure. Vaporizers are not a viable alternative, since there is no consensus on whether the vapor emitted from them is completely safe either.

When you are a child, you obviously have no choice about whether or not you are exposed to smoke.

Public health and safety campaigns may be more effective in encouraging parents and other adults not to smoke in the presence of children.

Involuntary smoking can be limited in the following places:

  • Public health campaigns encourage people to avoid smoking in public places to protect non-smokers.
  • Adults are encouraged not to light their cigarettes in the presence of children.
  • Policies that prohibit smoking in public places including workplaces, parks, government buildings, schools, bars, and restaurants.
  • Families are encouraged to quit smoking. If not, they can reduce exposure by not smoking in cars and at home.

The effects of getting exposed to cigarette fumes are felt by people of all ages, and the solution is to reduce exposure. There is no sure way of eliminating passive smoking.

What people can do is minimize exposure through by staying away from people who use cigarettes and places that allow for smoking.

People can also have a NO SMOKING rule for their homes and cars. Smokers living with others should not be allowed to smoke in the house and in the presence of children.

By limiting exposure, people can protect themselves and their families and keep them healthy by ensuring they are not likely to be in an environment forcing them to inhale the fumes involuntarily.

Passive Smoking FAQ

How long does second hand smoke stay in your system?

The chemicals in secondhand smoke, never leave your system. The CDC, the WHO and the National Cancer Institute, all categorically state that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which thereby negates the possibility that any amount of time could counter their harmful effects.

How to get second hand smoke out of your system?

There is no way to get secondhand smoke of your system. Even the briefest amount of exposure can have harmful effects.

Can you get second hand high?

Not really.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the possibility of getting “high” from secondhand marijuana smoke is low to non-existent. Unless you are in a room completely engulfed in marijuana smoke, there is no evidence showing that you will be affected by the THC in marijuana.

The same goes for the supposed “nicotine buzz” smokers get when they smoke tobacco. Nicotine is not among the chemicals released by sidestream, or secondhand smoke, making it impossible that you would feel the same effects of nicotine that smokers feel.

How many people died from secondhand smoke?

The CDC estimates that close to 2,500,000 non-smokers have died due to health issues caused by secondhand smoke.


  • The WHO estimates 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States are a direct result of secondhand smoke
  • The National Cancer Institute believes that the number of deaths related to heart-disease brought on by exposure to secondhand smoke is 46,000.

Can second hand smoke cause asthma?

Yes. Secondhand smoke can cause asthma, as well as number of other chronic lung disorders like emphysema and even lung cancer.

How far does second hand smoke travel?

The majority of exposure to secondhand smoke occurs either at home or in the workplace.

The CDC has shown that the nicotine levels of children living in multiple unit residences like apartment buildings is 45% higher than children living in single family homes.

This is due to the fact that secondhand smoke can travel under doorways, through ventilation systems and cracks in the walls.

How to avoid second hand smoke living with a smoker?

Encourage the smoker you are living with to quit. If you live with a smoker there is no way to significantly reduce the amount of secondhand smoke to which you are exposed.

Can you fail a drug test from second hand smoke?

The chances of failing a drug test because of exposure to secondhand marijuana are low to non-existent. A 2010 study tested this very same scenario. It found that although THC could be detected in non-smokers when they were exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke, the amount of THC in their body would not constitute a failed drug test.

Posted by
Christina Matthews

I love the written word, and in my career as a journalist, I strive to provide the facts about everything I write about. There are too many false and alarmist stories out there about life and vaping mainly. My mission is to make e-cigarettes less scary to people with informative articles and extensive research on not only the possible evils of cigarettes and Big Tobacco, but the objective side of e-cigs.

  1. comment-avatar


    November 3, 2017 at 8:11 pm Reply

    Thanks, I have been diagnosed with secondhand smoke damage and it is incredible the number of people who don’t take this serious, including your loved ones.

  2. comment-avatar


    December 23, 2018 at 11:17 pm Reply

    Are the effects of second-hand smoke from cigarettes the same as second-hand smoke from vaping?

  3. comment-avatar

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