- Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health
- Is smoking tobacco really addictive?
- Why do people start smoking?
- How many people use tobacco?
- What in tobacco smoke is harmful?
- Is secondhand (environmental) tobacco smoke dangerous?
- How does tobacco use affect the economy?
- What’s being done to protect people from the hazards of smoking?
- Are spit tobacco and snuff safe alternatives to smoking?
- What are the health risks of smoking pipes or cigars?
- What about electronic cigarettes? Aren’t they safe?
- Is dissolvable tobacco safe?
- What about more exotic forms of smoking tobacco, such as clove cigarettes, bidis, and hookahs?
- What can I do to help with any damage that may have been caused by smoking?
- Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
- How do people quit tobacco?
- To learn more
Is secondhand (environmental) tobacco smoke dangerous?
There is no safe level of exposure for secondhand smoke (SHS), which is also called environmental tobacco smoke. Passive smoking (inhaling secondhand smoke) happens when non-smokers breathe other people’s tobacco smoke. This includes mainstream smoke (smoke that’s exhaled into the air by smokers) and sidestream smoke (smoke that comes directly from the burning tobacco). SHS contains the same harmful chemicals the smokers inhale. It’s known to cause lung cancer in non-smokers, and has been linked to other cancers and health problems in non-smokers, too. Children and babies are at special risk: those who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to get sick and even die than children who aren’t around SHS.
Please see our document called Secondhand Smoke to learn more.
Am I at risk for lung cancer from smoke odors on clothing or from being in a room that still smells like tobacco smoke?
There are no medical research reports on the cancer-causing effects of cigarette odors, but research does show that secondhand smoke (SHS) can seep into hair, clothing, dust, and other surfaces. Researchers call this “thirdhand” smoke. It refers to particles that are left on surfaces after you can no longer see the smoke. These particles can become airborne again when disturbed, or they can be picked up by people (especially babies and small children) who touch the surfaces and get particles on their hands and bodies.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are known carcinogens that have been found in settled house dust in the homes of smokers. Though the cancer-causing effects of thirdhand smoke is not known, this is an active area of tobacco research.
For more information, see our document called Secondhand Smoke.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013