Second-hand smoke

What is second-hand smoke and how does it affect us?

Second-hand smoke

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What is second-hand smoke?

A lit cigarette is like a little toxic waste dump on fire, giving out health-endangering smoke.

When a smoker lights a cigarette second-hand smoke is produced both from the burning end of a cigarette and from the smoke exhaled by the smoker.20  This smoke contains many chemicals that are hazardous to your health including cyanide, DDT, ammonia, and carbon monoxide. Second-hand smoke can make your eyes sore and give you headaches, coughs, sore throats, dizziness and make you feel sick.

But it can be much more serious than that. There is no safe level of exposure. Second-hand smoke increases your risk of:

  • heart disease
  • lung cancer
  • stroke
  • nasal sinus cancer (cancer near and around the nose).20

Before indoor smoking bans were widely in place in New Zealand, it was estimated that about 350 people died every year because of exposure to second-hand smoke.21

How second-hand smoke harms others – especially children

Children can get particularly sick if they breathe in second-hand smoke because their lungs are smaller, they have a faster breathing rate and their immune systems are still developing. 22 They also often have no way of getting away from the smoke.

They are more likely to go to hospital, get coughs, colds and wheezes and are off school more often.2Children whose parents smoke have double the risk of lower respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia compared to children of parents who do not smoke.21 Moreover, the more parents smoke around their children the more likely they are to get sick.23

Children whose parents smoke have double the risk of lower respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia compared to children of parents who do not smoke.

Being exposed to second-hand smoke can also affect children’s development and behaviour, and they can do less well at school and have trouble paying attention.23

Children need to be protected from second-hand smoke because it can cause: 24

  • middle ear infections, like glue ear
  • lung and breathing illness, like croup, bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia
  • asthma, and it can make asthma worse
  • delays in lung growth 
  • Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI or cot death)
  • meningitis.

In New Zealand, there is a big focus on having smokefree environments – including homes, cars, schools, and outdoor spaces.

It can also affect your pets

Cats, dogs, birds, and other pets are all at risk if they live with people who smoke25. They will breathe in the toxins from second-hand smoke. 

They will also be exposed to toxic particles in the room and surfaces around them, and from being in direct contact with their owners. Toxins can get on their fur or feathers and be taken-in when they are grooming themselves, or absorbed directly through their skin. 

Animals can develop breathing/respiratory problems, allergies, asthma, and can even get cancer from being exposed to tobacco smoke.

Third-hand smoke

But taking the smoke outside doesn’t just protect others from second-hand smoke, there is also the absorption of toxic chemicals into fabrics, walls, furniture, clothing, household dust, and even on our skin – and it stays there for a long time. This is called third-hand smoke. It is for these reasons it is strongly recommended to never smoke inside your house or car as the poisons in tobacco smoke are left everywhere and accumulate over time. This can be an irritant,  and is linked to poorer health. It  is particularly bad for children. Children can even end up with poisons in their digestive system from touching contaminated objects and putting their hands in their mouth. 26 

Show the aroha and take the smoke outside.

Page last updated: 13 Oct 2022