Passive smoking, also known as second-hand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke, is when a person breathes in toxic fumes that have remained in the air or surrounding objects after a cigarette has been smoked. It also refers to exposure of unborn babies to their mother’s smoke.
What is passive smoke?
There are three types of passive smoke;
- Mainstream smoke: breathed in and breathed out by a smoker
- Side-stream smoke: floating off the end of a lit cigarette
- Third-hand smoke: smoke that has been absorbed into clothing or furniture
How does passive smoke affect our lungs?
Passive smoke is classed as cancer-causing by the World Health Organization and there are no safe levels of exposure. Passive smoking can cause premature death, disease and disability in adults and children.
In adults: passive smoking is known to cause lung cancer, coughing, wheezing and other illnesses such as coronary heart disease.
In children: passive smoking can increase the severity of asthma symptoms and lead to new asthma cases. It can also cause coughing and wheezing and other illnesses such as middle-ear problems.
There are over 4,000 chemicals generated during the burning and smoking of tobacco products. Of these, over 250 chemicals are known to be toxic or cancer-causing.
Top tips for healthy lungs
Quitting smoking improves the quality and length of your life. Immediately after your last cigarette, your body will feel the benefits.
Stop smoking and:
- Choose healthy lungs
- Choose more energy
- Choose to cough less
- Choose to feel young
- Choose better fertility
- Choose a longer life
Ask your doctor, pharmacist, clinical psychologist, or nurse for help or contact a telephone or internet helpline.
Scientific and clinical resources
- Supporting Tobacco Cessation, ERS Monograph, (2021).
- Statement on smoking cessation in COPD and other pulmonary diseases and in smokers with comorbidities who find it difficult to quit (2015)
- Predictors of long-term smoking cessation in patients with COPD: results from a randomised controlled trial. Eva A.M. van Eerd, Onno C.P. van Schayck, Geertjan Wesseling, Daniel Kotz. European Respiratory Journal 2017 49: 1700561
- Improved outcomes in ex-smokers with COPD: a UK primary care observational cohort study. Lynn Josephs, David Culliford, Matthew Johnson, Mike Thomas European Respiratory Journal 2017 49: 1602114
- There can be smoke without fire: warranted caution in promoting electronic cigarettes and heat not burn devices as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.Kielan Darcy McAlinden, Sukhwinder Singh Sohal, Pawan Sharma. ERJ Open Research 2019 5: 00114-2019
- Electronic cigarettes: a task force report from the European Respiratory Society. Robert Bals, Jeanette Boyd, Susanna Esposito, Robert Foronjy, Pieter S. Hiemstra, Carlos A. Jiménez-Ruiz, Paraskevi Katsaounou, Anne Lindberg, Carlos Metz, Wolfgang Schober, Avrum Spira, Francesco Blasi European Respiratory Journal 2019 53: 1801151
- Smoking cessation using innovative techniques: course report. Christina Gratziou, Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, Paraskevi A. Katsaounou. Breathe 2015 11: 255-256