Passive Smoking – How Harmful Is It?

Smoking not only puts your own health at risk, but the health of people around you as well.

Updated: Friday 26 March 2021

passive smoking


Smoking not only puts your own health at risk, but the health of people around you as well. When a cigarette is lit, the smoke from the tip of the cigarette is inhaled by the non-smoker, which may even be more toxic smoke inhaled by a smoker. The smoke can stay in the air for several hours even if you can’t see or smell the smoke.

Second hand smoke contains thousands of chemicals usually toxins or irritants which are harmful to the body, with over 70 of these being cancerous. Frequent exposure to passive smoke can put you at risk of developing lung cancer, even if you are a non-smoker. It also increases the risk of coronary heart disease by around 25-40%, almost level with a smoker.

Short term effects:

  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Eye/nose irritation

Long term effects:

  • Lung cancer (25-30% increase)
  • Coronary heart disease (25-40% increase)
  • Stroke (20-30% increase)
  • Premature death

Pregnant women exposed to passive smoke have a greater risk of complications during pregnancy by passing on harmful chemicals to their baby and are more likely to have babies with a lower birth weight.

Passive Smoking and Children

Children with exposure to second-hand smoking put themselves at risk of:

  • Asthma
  • Coughs and colds
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Middle ear disease

Children exposed to passive smoking are more likely to start smoking themselves later in life. It might be hard to explain the dangers of smoking to children if you are a parent who smokes, so it is better to lead by example and quit. Blog: What Quitting Smoking Will Do For Your Health

How to protect yourself and others

  • Have a smoke free home
  • Restricting anyone from smoking in your car
  • Avoid indoor areas that allow smoking
  • Making sure babysitters or nannies don’t smoke
  • Teaching children to avoid second-hand smoking
  • Quit smoking for good

What has been done to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke?

Aeroplanes, buses, schools, parks, restaurants and bars have all prohibited the use of smoking. In July 2018, the use of cigarettes, pipes and hookah have been restricted in living units and indoor common areas. With smoking being one of the largest causes of death, the UK plan to raise the age limit to purchase cigarettes to 21 and introduce a levy on tobacco companies to tackle the public health issue, encourage younger people to stop smoking and encourage users to quit.

The UK's commitment to combat smoking continues to evolve, with significant laws introduced in 2020 to discourage smoking further, including banning smaller cigarette packs and flavoured varieties.

Iris Barbier

Written by: Iris Barbier

Pharmacy Assistant

Born in France, Iris moved to the UK to study Biological Sciences at London Metropolitan University. Upon graduating, Iris moved up north, where she completed an MA in Science Journalism at the University of Lincoln.

As a qualified science journalist, Iris uses her expertise to write content for Pharmica’s online Health Centre. She ensures our patients get specialist knowledge on medical conditions and how to treat them.

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