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Protect your family from secondhand smoke

By stopping smoking, you can protect your family’s health as well as your own.

When you smoke, it’s not just your health that’s at risk. A smoker only inhales about 15% of the smoke from a cigarette - the other 85% is absorbed into the atmosphere or inhaled by others.

This is called secondhand smoke - you produce it whenever you light up. It’s the smoke you breathe out, and the smoke from the lit end of the cigarette. Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals - including arsenic and cyanide (which are both poisons), and benzene, which can cause leukaemia.

Cancer risks

Secondhand smoke contains carcinogens. These are chemicals that cause cancer. People who breathe in secondhand smoke are at increased risk of smoking-related diseases. For example, non-smoking women who live with a partner who smokes are 27% more likely to get lung cancer than non-smoking women who live with another non-smoker.

Opening a window when you smoke doesn’t make a difference. More than 80% of smoke is invisible - you can’t see where it goes or control it.

The risk to children

Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke because they breathe more rapidly and their lungs, airways and immune system are still developing. Secondhand smoke can increase a child’s risk of:

  • ear infections
  • asthma
  • allergies
  • meningitis
  • cancer
  • bronchitis
  • pneumonia

Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death).

Children who grow up seeing their parents smoke are also 3 times more likely to smoke when they grow up.

Stop smoking to protect your family

You can quit and we can help. You can get free support from the Quit Programme and sign up to a free, personalised Quit plan to help you stop smoking.

Related topic

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page last reviewed: 25/03/2019
next review due: 25/03/2022

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