Should you need urgent health advice please contact your GP or call NHS 111. In an emergency please visit A&E or call 999

We offer tailored content specific to your area. Check below to find your local area.

Choose your location for articles and services where your live:

Secondhand smoke: just the facts

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.

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 aren’t as 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

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 stays in the air 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.

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. Ideally they should change their outer clothes on return and wash their hands – traces of smoke can linger on clothing and then be released back into the atmosphere of the room they’re in for up to three hours after smoking.

Page last reviewed: 23-06-2021

Next review due: 23-06-2024