Health hazards of passive smoking

Other Names:
Health hazards to children of smokers
Health risks to families of smokers
Negative effects of second-hand smoke
Health hazards of secondary smoke
Environmental tobacco smoke

Tobacco has its victims other than smokers: those living among smokers can be considered as passive smokers because they are exposed to smoke concentration in the atmosphere they live in. Tobacco use is a major source of indoor air pollution also in public places, such as bars and offices. For non-smokers, smoking is an infringement of the reasonable right not to have to breathe other people's tobacco smoke.


The effects of passive smoking are not limited to benign ailments. Analysis of chemicals in the urine of women who live with smokers demonstrates that tobacco smoke carcinogens, are absorbed by non-smokers from second-hand smoke. Women who live with smokers absorb five to six times more chemicals linked to lung cancer than do women who live with non-smokers. The risk of wives developing lung cancer doubled when the husbands smoked over twenty cigarettes a day. There was also an increased incidence of emphysema and asthma, although to a lesser degree. Many studies have also shown that when parents smoke, their children cough. Babies are most at risk, with the highest percentages for bronchitis and lung ailments in infants under a year old. Other studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke increases the risk of lung cancer for non-smokers who work where cigarette and cigar smoking is common, such as bars or taverns.

10 healthy non-smokers, who had avoided exposure to tobacco smoke for several weeks, were submitted to a five hour trip in one of the smoking compartments of a French train. Their urine analysed immediately afterwards showed levels of cotine (a derivative of nicotine) similar to those in a person who smokes 2-5 cigarettes a day.

In the period 1985-88, it was estimated that passive smoking accounted each year for up to 5,000 deaths in the USA, 1,000 in the UK, and 500 in Canada. Since this time estimates of ill-health and morbidity due to passive smoking have risen greatly. A 1990 study showed that passive smoking accounted for more than 3,000 cases of lung cancer among non-smokers in the USA. A 1991 report prepared by the EPA suggests that passive smoking is connected to nearly 53,000 US deaths per year, based on heart disease and cancer related fatalities. Another USA study found that leukaemia appears seven times more often among people who have spent their lives with smokers. Among people who had lived together with three or more smokers, the risk of breast cancer rose 3.3 times and the risk of cervical cancer increased 3.4 times. A 1993 US EPA report estimates 3,000 deaths and between 150,000 and 300,000 cases of respiratory illnesses among infants and children per year as results of second-hand smoke.

In the early 1990s, the UK Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 3,000 people die each year of passive smoking in Britain. In 1993, a British woman was awarded £15,000 compensation for health problems related to passive smoke in her work environment. According to a 1992 British study, children of smokers inhale the equivalent of 60 to 150 cigarettes per year. Children of parents who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day are 0.5 cm to 1 cm shorter than other children. Parental smoking is estimated to account for 17,000 children's hospital admissions annually. Symptoms of asthma are twice as common in children of smokers. The same study shows an estimated 4,300 miscarriages a year as results of maternal tobacco smoking. The foetus is also affected by passive smoking; nicotine shows up in the hair of babies newly born to non-smoking mothers who were frequently exposed to smoke during pregnancy. In 1996 a group of flight attendants in the US succeeded in lodging a case against tobacco manufacturers for the health effects they suffered as nonsmokers exposed to smoking. The attendants claim the tobacco manufacturers have minimized the dangers and health hazards of passive smoking.

World Medical Association (WMA)
World Health Organization (WHO)
European Medical Association on Smoking and Health (EMASH)
European Smoking Tobacco Association (ESTA)
Anti-Smoking International Alliance (ASIA)
European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP)
European Union of Nonsmokers
Global Smokefree Partnership (GSP)
Smoke Free Partnership (SFP)
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC)
Nordic Heart and Lung Alliance
European Lung Foundation (ELF)
European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations (EFA)
Women against Lung Cancer in Europe (WALCE)
Framework Convention Alliance (FCA)
Cooperation Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco
International Society for the Prevention of Tobacco Induced Diseases (PTID Society)
African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA)
Asia Pacific Association for the Control of Tobacco (APACT)
Africa Tobacco Control Regional Initiative (ATCRI)
International Network of Women Against Tobacco - Europe (INWAT Europe)
ENSH-Global Network for Tobacco Free Health Care Services (ENSH-Global)
International Network of Women Against Tobacco (INWAT)
International Tobacco Evidence Network (ITEN)
Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)
WHO Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)
Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control (ACTC)
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
International Liaison Group on Tobacco and Health (ILGTH)
Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT)
Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
InterAmerican Heart Foundation (IAHF)
International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union)
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST