How risky is secondhand smoke?


Secondhand smoke causes or contributes to serious health problems, including:

  • Lung disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke can aggravate respiratory conditions — especially for people who have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Heart disease. Secondhand smoke damages blood vessels and interferes with circulation, which increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. A new Mayo Clinic study suggests that secondhand smoke also increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.
  • Cancer. Secondhand smoke is a known risk factor for lung cancer. In addition, secondhand smoke contains benzene — which increases the risk of leukemia.

Secondhand smoke poses additional risks for children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. Problems include:

  • Low birth weight. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS.
  • Asthma. Secondhand smoke increases the risk — and severity — of childhood asthma.
  • Infections. Children who live with smokers are more likely to develop bronchitis, pneumonia and middle ear infections (otitis media).

Secondhand smoke also causes chronic coughing, phlegm and wheezing, as well as eye and nose irritation.

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