9 of the Worst Diseases You Can Get from Secondhand Smoke

You know smoking is bad for you. But did you know you're still at risk for some serious smoke-related health complications even if you don't light up? Smoking doesn't just affect smokers; it also has an impact on their families, pets, friends, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers who breathe the smoke-filled air.

Some states protect their citizens with comprehensive smokefree laws, prohibiting smoking in public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars. BUT, there are still 22 states that lack comprehensive smokefree laws, leaving millions of people in the U.S. vulnerable to secondhand smoke and the deadly diseases it causes.

Secondhand smoke causes these 9 cruel diseases*
*Cruel as in not-wishing-them-upon-your-enemy-cruel

1. Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer in the United States, and secondhand smoke is a contributor. Exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers every year.

lung cancer

2. Heart disease

Breathing in smoke-filled air harms more than your lungs. Your ticker takes a hit, too. Secondhand smoke is responsible for close to 34,000 heart disease deaths in the United States annually – that is more than 20 times the number of people who lost their lives when the Titanic sank.

3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS, which is the unexplained and unexpected death of an infant. It is the leading cause of death in otherwise healthy babies under age one. As if being a new parent isn’t scary enough. It is estimated that secondhand smoke causes 430 SIDS deaths in the U.S. annually.

4. Stroke

Take note if you live or work in one of the 22 states that has not enacted a comprehensive smokefree law. Being exposed to secondhand smoke is estimated to increase your risk of death and disability from stroke by 20% to 30%.

5. Asthma attacks

Chronic, common and life-threatening—asthma is a serious disease, only made worse from exposure to secondhand smoke. Over 26 million Americans are living with asthma and the breathing difficulties that come with it. Add in smoke-filled air and you can bet asthma attacks will be knocking on your front door.

6. Middle ear disease in kids

Ear infections have a knack for starting in the middle of the night after the pharmacy has closed. Secondhand smoke sends 790,000 kids to the doctor every year for those miserable middle ear infections.

7. Lower respiratory illness in infants and toddlers

Each year, secondhand smoke causes between 150,000 and 300,000 infants and toddlers to develop lower respiratory tract illnesses—e.g., bronchitis, those awful coughs that keep parents and baby up at night, and pneumonia.

8. Low-birth-weight babies

Secondhand smoke can impact a person before they take their first breath. Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at a greater risk of having low-birth-weight babies. Little ones born too small may have health complications such as birth defects and infections.

9. Developing lungs in kids

Your lungs begin developing inside the womb, and continue to develop in childhood. Exposure to secondhand smoke stunts that growth and keeps them from reaching their full potential.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking–: 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health Interview Survey, 2020. Analysis by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit Using SPSS Software.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024