The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

The dangers of secondhand smoke are immense. It is classified as a Class A carcinogen, as it has been proven to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals and over 52.1% of Oklahoma adults report being regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, a rate higher than the national average. While over half of U.S. states have comprehensive smoke-free policies, Oklahoma has none. Here’s why that needs to change.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a combination of smoke burning from a cigarette, and the smoke exhaled by a tobacco user. When most people think of secondhand smoke, they think of the hazy smell that wafts from the sidewalk. However, it’s much more than a nuisance — secondhand smoke exposes everyone nearby to the same dangerous toxins as smoking. In fact, it only takes 30 minutes of exposure to cause heart damage like that experienced by an everyday smoker. No level of exposure is “safe.”

The Harmful Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke contains 7,000 chemicals — 250 of those are known to be harmful, and at least 70 cause cancer. The harmful chemicals include but are not limited to:

  • Benzene (found in gasoline)
  • Vinyl chloride (used to make plastic)
  • Butane (used in lighter fluid)
  • Ammonia (found in household cleaner)
  • Hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons)
  • Toluene (used in paint thinners)
  • Cadmium (used to make batteries)
  • Carbon monoxide

In both adults and children, secondhand smoke can lead to disease and even death. Babies and young children are especially vulnerable as their bodies and lungs are still developing. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause and/or worsen a child’s risk of:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Ear infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Respiratory infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma

The level of secondhand smoke a child is exposed to is directly proportional to the likelihood of the child becoming a smoker as a teen or young adult. That leads to continued use as they grow older, resulting in long-term health effects of tobacco addiction.

Increased exposure and illness also leads to more school absences — children living with secondhand smoke miss one more school day per year as a result. Learn more about the short- and long-term health effects secondhand smoke has on children and find more ways to protect them here. You can also find tips on how to talk with the kids in your life about the dangers of secondhand smoke to get ahead of the problem before it gets worse.

For adults who don’t smoke, breathing secondhand smoke can have immediate negative effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risks for heart disease. Other adverse effects include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Reduced fertility

Secondhand Smoke Statistics:

  • In the United States, secondhand smoke exposure causes approximately 7,300 deaths annually from lung cancer in nonsmokers.
  • Secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the U.S. among nonsmokers.
  • Since 1964, approximately 2.5 million nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Separating smokers into different rooms does NOT eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. Smoke travels through ventilation systems, jacks, outlets, floorboards, light fixtures and cracks in the wall. Even when no one in the home smokes, secondhand smoke can drift from nearby units.
Approximately 2.5M nonsmokers have died since 1964 due to health issues caused by exposure to SHS.
In nonsmokers, SHS causes around 7.3K lung cancer deaths/year & nearly 34K heart disease deaths/year.

Creating a Smoke-Free Future

The only way to fully protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoke exposure completely. Over half of the country is protected by comprehensive smoke-free laws — covering workplaces, restaurants and bars — which causes Oklahoma’s lack of protection to stand out.

Comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in every indoor space are necessary to protect public health. Those same policies can also help people quit smoking and can encourage several non-tobacco users to never start. A majority of Oklahomans (77%) support stronger tobacco policies.

Most comprehensive smoke-free laws also prohibit the use of vapes indoors. Learn more about the short- and long-term health effects and dangers of vapes.

It takes a village to create positive change in our state. Show your support for stronger tobacco policies in Oklahoma. Until we strengthen Oklahoma’s tobacco policies, our health issues will continue to rise and the dangers of secondhand smoke will remain. If you’re looking to join the fight against secondhand smoke, visit our Get Involved page.

If you or someone you know is looking to quit tobacco, there are resources that can help. Find FREE services including a supply of patches, gum or lozenges, Coach support, live group sessions and more from the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline