Secondhand smoke: just the facts

Smoky environments are not good for babies. As a parent or carer, you need to be aware of the facts around second-hand smoke so that you can keep your baby safe from harm.

Secondhand smoke is present wherever tobacco is smoked, and that includes cigarettes, roll-ups, cigars, pipes and shisha.

  • Smoke coming from the item that’s being smoked is regarded as secondhand smoke.
  • Smoke coming out of the person’s mouth while they’re smoking is regarded as secondhand smoke.
  • E-Cigarettes don’t give off secondhand smoke because they don’t contain tobacco.
  • Similarly, smokeless tobacco doesn’t produce secondhand smoke, because it is not smoked – as the name implies.

Secondhand smoke and health

Breathing other people’s secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoking, can cause the same health problems as smoking.  This includes breathing problems and increased risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Young children and babies, people who are already ill or very old and frail are particularly vulnerable, but secondhand smoke is bad for everyone’s health, even pets!

Secondhand smoke and children

baby twins sleeping

Children and babies are more at risk than adults from secondhand smoke because they have a higher breathing rate and their lungs and immune systems are less well developed.

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to get coughs and colds, but they are also at risk from far more serious illness.

Every year there are around 300,000 GP visits and 9,500 hospital admissions as a result of children becoming unwell due to breathing secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke increases the risk of:

    • Sudden infant death syndrome (cot death)
    • Respiratory illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia
    • Bacterial meningitis
    • Middle ear disease
    • Asthma and wheeze symptoms

Some studies show that there is also an increased risk of ADHD and other behavioural problems

Five important facts about secondhand smoke

  1. 80 per cent of cigarette smoke is invisible- just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  2. Smoke hangs around for up to two and a half hours after the cigarette has been put out, so it takes a long time for the room to be smoke free again.
  3. Smoke sticks to things in the room, like carpets, sofas, curtains, and even pet’s fur.
  4. Even if people only smoke in the house occasionally, it will never be completely smoke-free and there will be secondhand smoke lingering.
  5. Just as with cigarettes, secondhand smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic – which means they are directly involved in causing cancer.

And another thing… Smoking in the home increases the risk of a house fire by 35 percent.

Secondhand smoke and the law

It has been against the law to smoke in public places like pubs and restaurants since 2007. This has meant that there were 1,200 fewer hospital admissions for heart attacks recorded in the following year alone.  Imagine how many more heart attacks have been avoided since then!

Since 2015, it’s been against the law to smoke in a car carrying people under the age of 18.

What you can do to help keep your home smokefree

  1. Explain to the people who live in or visit your home about secondhand smoke and show them the information from ASH on secondhand smoke
  2. Make it a house rule that all smokers go outside.
  3. If you live in Leicester, sign up to the Step Right Out promise to keep your home and car completely smokefree. You can sign up online on the Leicester Stop Smoking Service website……. more than 10,000 other people in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland have already done so!

Useful Links


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Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

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