What is passive smoking?

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  • Passive smoking is breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke
  • It can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer and may also increase the risk of other cancers including of the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (upper throat)

The evidence is clear that second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer and other health problems like heart disease.

It may also increase the risk of some other types of cancer, stroke and the lung disease Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Most harmful tobacco smoke is invisible, but travels through the air and lingers. It can also build up on surfaces and clothes.

How can we protect children from passive smoke?

Second-hand smoking is particularly dangerous for children. Children exposed to passive smoke are at higher risk of respiratory infections, asthma, bacterial meningitis and cot death.

Most exposure to second-hand smoke happens in the home. Smoke can spread throughout the home, even if you open the windows. Smoking outside can help reduce your child’s exposure.

Second-hand smoke can reach very high levels inside cars because it is a small, enclosed space. In the UK, since 2016 it has been an offence to smoke in a vehicle with anyone under the age of 18 inside.



Is second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes harmful?

So far, there is no strong evidence to suggest that e-cigarette vapour could be harmful to bystanders. Although, as they are relatively new, evidence on second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes is limited.

Find out more about e-cigarettes here

Gee IL, Semple S, and Watson A, C. A. Nearly 85% of tobacco smoke is invisible - a confirmation of previous claims. Tob. Control . 22, 429 (2013).

International Agency for Reseach on Cancer. Personal Habit and Indoor Combustion: Second-hand Tobacco Smoke. Vol  100 E (2012).

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Tobacco smoke and involuntary smoking. Vol 83, 1–1413 (2004).

McNeill, A. et al. Evidence review of e- cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018. A report commissioned by Public Health England (2018).

Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTCH). Secondhand Smoke: Review of evidence since 1998 (2004).

Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. Passive Smoking and Children. (2010).

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