Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard causing more than 41,000 deaths per year. It can cause or make worse a wide range of damaging health effects in children and adults, including lung cancer, respiratory infections and asthma.

The American Lung Association has more information available on laws protecting the public from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Key Facts about Secondhand Smoke

  • Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year.1
  • Between 1964 and 2014, 2.5 million people died from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General. The report also concluded that secondhand smoke is a definitive cause of stroke.1
  • There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and even short-term exposure potentially can increase the risk of heart attacks.
  • Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia and hydrogen cyanide.2
  • Secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks; even relatively brief exposure can trigger a heart attack, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine.

Secondhand Smoke in the Workplace

  • Secondhand smoke costs our economy $5.6 billion per year due to lost productivity.1
  • The health of nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at work is at increased risk. Levels of secondhand smoke in restaurants and bars were found to be two- to five-times higher than in residences with smokers, and two- to six-times higher than in office workplaces.
  • Being employed in a workplace where smoking is prohibited is associated with a reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked per day and an increase in the success rate of smokers who are attempting to quit.
  • Casino workers in particular are exposed to hazardous levels of toxic secondhand smoke at work, including tobacco-specific carcinogens that increased in their bodies as their work shifts progressed, according to a report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Secondhand Smoke and Children

  • Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to young children. Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year. It also causes 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. annually.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure may cause buildup of fluid in the middle ear, resulting in 790,000 doctor's office visits per year, as well as more than 202,000 asthma flare-ups among children each year.7
  • More than 24 million, or about 37 percent of children in the U.S. have been exposed to secondhand smoke.

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

  • Sources
    1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2014.
    2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2006.
    3. Institute of Medicine. Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects: Making Sense of the Evidence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2009.
    4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Report on Carcinogens, Tenth Edition 2002. National Toxicology Program.
    5. National Cancer Institute. Population Based Smoking Cessation: Proceedings of a Conference on What Works to Influence Cessation in the General Population, Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 12. NIH Pub. 00-4892, Nov. 2000.
    6. National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. Environmental and Biological Assessment of Environmental Tobacco Smoke among Casino Dealers, May 2009.
    7. California Environmental Protection Agency. Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant. Executive Summary. June 2005.
    8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Disparities in Nonsmokers' Exposure to Secondhand Smoke — United States, 1999-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. February 6, 2015; 64(4):103-8.
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