Secondhand Smoke and Health

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Every year, hundreds of non-smoking Mississippians die from exposure to secondhand smoke. Abundant evidence has demonstrated the danger of secondhand smoke, but it continues to be a significant public health hazard.

Secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and other serious health problems. Children are especially vulnerable to its risks.

Scientific Evidence

The Surgeon General's Report on tobacco smoke exposure examined the latest available evidence on tobacco smoke and the ways it damages the human body for smokers and non-smokers. It concludes that:

  • There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
    Any exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke causes harm, even if it is occasional. Smoking doesn't just affect smokers.
  • Damage from tobacco smoke is immediate.
    Exposure to tobacco smoke quickly damages blood vessels throughout the body and makes blood more likely to clot. This damage can cause heart attacks, strokes, and even sudden death. Chemicals in tobacco smoke can also cause permanent lung damage, leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Tobacco smoke affects unborn babies.
    Chemicals in tobacco smoke interfere with the female reproductive system, increasing the risk of abnormal pregnancy, miscarriage, and low birth weight babies.

Secondhand Smoke and You

E-cigarette aerosol or vapor contains harmful substances, including heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals, nicotine, and diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke

  • Non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent, and increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
  • Every year over 500 non-smokers in Mississippi die from exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the U.S. EPA. This means it has been shown to cause cancer in people.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure during pregnancy and infancy doubles the risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • An estimated 68,000 children in Mississippi have asthma that can be aggravated by secondhand smoke.

Secondhand Smoke and Children

Young children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. Because they breathe more rapidly than adults and are still developing physically, secondhand smoke has a greater impact on their health.

In children, secondhand smoke exposure causes:

  • Bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and young children.
  • Increased risk for ear infections.
  • More frequent and severe asthma attacks.
  • Long-lasting or permanent damage to the developing lungs of unborn and newborn children.
  • A greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Secondhand smoke spreads quickly throughout an entire house or building. Using fans or smoking by a window will not keep children safe.

Keeping Children Safe

  • Never smoke anywhere children may be present, especially homes, restaurants, vehicles and other indoor or enclosed spaces.
  • Advise friends, relatives and caregivers not to smoke around your child.
  • Look for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking. “No-smoking sections” do not protect you and your family from secondhand smoke.
  • Ventilation systems do not work well enough to protect you from secondhand smoke.

Public Housing is Now Smoke-Free

Federal law now requires low-income, conventional public housing to be free of tobacco products that produce smoke (cigarettes, cigars or pipes) in all living units, indoor common areas, offices and outdoor areas within 25 feet of the building. If you live or work in public housing, your health is now better protected, by law, against the health risks of secondhand smoke.

In the Workplace

Secondhand smoke contains thousands of chemicals, and many of them are known to cause cancer and other serious diseases. Many workplaces, especially restaurants and bars, have conditions that expose employees to smoke-contaminated air for prolonged periods of time.

  • Separating smokers from non-smokers using fans or special ventilation does not eliminate the health risks of secondhand smoke. These approaches have been found to be ineffective by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
  • Since even brief exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful, the prolonged exposure experienced by many restaurant and bar employees presents even greater risks.
  • Customers in retail workplaces are at risk as well, especially since secondhand smoke is known to aggravate asthma attacks in children.

Further Information and Resources

Data and Reports

Last reviewed on Jul 6, 2023 request edits
Mississippi State Department of Health 570 East Woodrow Wilson Dr Jackson, MS 39216 866‑HLTHY4U Contact and information

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