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Secondhand Smoke - Firsthand Risk

child breathing secondhand smoke

We all deserve to breathe air free of dangerous secondhand tobacco smoke where we work, live and play. Ten years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report on the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke, which forever ended the debate over whether secondhand smoke was harmful or not with this succinct statement: There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Today, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive laws to protect their citizens from secondhand smoke. Now it's time for the remaining 22 states to do the same.

While it may be called "secondhand" smoke, the health effects of those exposed to it are truly firsthand and all-too-real. The Surgeon General's report listed the many scientifically proven health risks related to breathing in someone else's smoke:  

  • Secondhand smoke causes heart and lung disease, including lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in America.
  • Breathing secondhand smoke is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who breathe secondhand smoke are also more likely to have lung problems, ear infections and worse asthma from being around smoke.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke can make existing health conditions such as heart disease and asthma worse.

You may think secondhand smoke is a minor health risk, but consider this—every year over 41,000 people in the U.S. die from secondhand smoke exposure. Children, pregnant women, older people, and people with heart or breathing problems like asthma or COPD are at greatest risk, but even healthy people should avoid secondhand smoke.  

How do you avoid secondhand smoke? The Surgeon General's report also made clear several myths about avoiding secondhand smoke. Creating "no smoking" sections simply doesn't work. Ventilation or filtering the air doesn't protect people from secondhand smoke either. The truth is the only way to protect people from secondhand smoke is to make all workplaces, public spaces, restaurants, bars and casinos smokefree. 

June 27 marks the 10th anniversary of this historic report. While many states adopted comprehensive smokefree laws in the five years after the report, progress has all-but stalled with only one state, North Dakota, adopting a smokefree law in the past five years. We can't wait 10 more years for the other 22 states to protect their citizens—not with 41,000 lives lost, and $5.6 billion in economic costs spent, each year.

All Americans deserve the chance to live a healthy life, and breathing smokefree air is an important part of it. The American Lung Association continues to lead the fight to pass comprehensive smokefree laws, because we know that the only way to protect everyone from exposure to secondhand smoke is by making all indoor spaces smokefree. All workplaces, public spaces, restaurants, bars and casinos should be protected with smokefree laws. Indoor smoking should also be avoided in homes and cars—places where children are at particular risk of exposure.

You can join us in calling for all communities and states to swiftly pass comprehensive smokefree laws and policies, and the federal government must act to protect Americans living in public and subsidized housing. Visit to learn more about smokefree laws and policies, and how our country is doing in making all 50 states smokefree. We've known the solution to death and illness from secondhand smoke for more than a decade. Now is the time to protect everyone, especially our children, as the health of families and communities can no longer wait.

Related Topics: Tobacco & Smoking, Impact,

  • Harold Wimmer
    National President and CEO
    Harold P. Wimmer is National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, the nation's oldest voluntary health association, working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.
    Follow the Lung Association:

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Submitted by mml at: May 29, 2018
I recently moved into a high rise apartment building where 3 dear friends also live. 1 week after my move a chain smoker moved in next door to me. In all the years I have visited my friends here, I never smelled cigarette smoke, and there was none the numerous times I viewed the condo prior to purchase. I have asthma which is adversely impacted by my neighbor's smoking. I have experienced 4 asthma attacks in the past 2 weeks. I had not required any "rescue inhaler" med for the past 6 months prior to this current second hand smoke exposure. The manager has asked her to smoke on the other side of her condo, away from our common wall (her bedroom-my kitchen), but she constantly "forgets" and just smokes a couple of times in her bedroom. It is obvious this person is not interested in accommodating me in any way. What is my recourse, other than moving and selling my lovely condo, which no one will buy because of the overwhelming cigarette smell?
Submitted by Cheri R Osborn at: September 11, 2016
School, playgrounds, work places, & public events are smoke free. The one place that isn't is my child's backyard and bedroom. I would like to help anyway I am given the chance to protect children from second hand smoke in their own backyards and in their own beds. When I asked my neighbor after a hot day to please not smoke under our bedroom windows that we are trying to cool our home off, my neighbor told me he has the right to smoke where ever he wants- even under my and my kids bedroom windows while we sleep at 2am- and that I have a right to close my windows. He went on to say that he is going to call the police for harassment if we keep bothering him about it. I don't understand how 2 asthmatic children can suddenly loose all rights to the comforts of their home they have lived in for almost 4 years and the right to breathe fresh air because a smoker buys the house next door. Is this true and if not what can we do to have our home and breathing rights upheld? Please help California's children, families, and community have the right to play in a smoke free yard (even a owner occupied single family) and the right to sleep in a smoke free room even with the window open for fresh air. Please let me know what I can do?
Submitted by Lo at: September 6, 2016
My daughter lives in a nice apartment in Indianapolis but it reeks in the hallways with smoke. I was shocked that they don't have smoke free apartments options or smoke free apartments in her price range. It should be law that no one should smoke in any public housing. Also, because of fires and threat of lung cancer, etc. Please help Indiana save themselves! Thank you for being bold in helping solve this crisis.
Submitted by spm at: July 24, 2016
I work hard to take care of my health going to the gym every other day, eat healthy and overall try to do the right things. I chose not to smoke because I know the health risks that come with it. I am a Stage 0 breast cancer survivor and I would like to enjoy my good health until I'm 100 yrs old. I am upset that I live in an apartment complex and my neighbors smoke. The smell comes into my home so much so I have to have an air purifier going 24/7. I feel my rights are being violated. Let's fight together to make complexes such as mine smoke free.
Submitted by smokefree at: July 22, 2016
To DT: You are not powerless. If the condo board of managers passed a smokefree policy (hopefully the owners also amended the by-laws) then you have to write to your board and file a formal complaint advising the board that residents are violating the smokefree policy and insisting that they take action to enforce the smokefree policy. Depending in what jurisdiction you live in find out what remedy you have with the department of health. Also consider contacting a senior citizen organization or dept. of aging organization in your local area. You can also contact a real estate lawyer who has experience in smoking lawsuits. The condo can be advised of the liability they face if they don't resolve the smoking violations. Good luck. Remember, you are in the right here.
Submitted by DT at: July 21, 2016
Thank you for your concerted efforts to curb second hand smoke exposure and related information sources regarding it. The condominium I own and reside in went smoke free in April 2016. The effort to accomplish this was like a full blown war as the non-smokers fought with the smokers to get the non-smoking rule passed. As I write this blog piece, I am inhaling second hand cigarette smoke with every breath I take. The smokers simply defy the new non-smoking rule and it appears that they can just do it with no penalties. I am a senior citizen with serious health problems who is constantly choking on smoke and I am powerless. What is a person to do when none of our authorities are concerned about enforcing city regulations and protecting it's citizens from harm. This second-hand smoke is going to be the death of me and there is nothing I can do about it.
Submitted by Gloria Linnertz at: June 24, 2016
Thanks for all of the efforts toward keeping our environment free of second hand smoke. However, please know that the second leading cause of lung cancer is radioactive radon gas exposure. It is so easy to test for this in our homes, schools, and workplaces, and lowering the level can help save thousands of lives yearly. Radon gas is odorless, tasteless, and invisible; the only way to know if the level is high is to test. Let's make this a universal effort also to help prevent the leading environmental cause of cancer death, the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and the leading cause of death in the home! Let's be educated and take action.
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