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Secondhand tobacco smoke: How to protect yourself and others

What is secondhand smoke

Secondhand tobacco smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke breathed out by smokers.

Secondhand smoke has more than 4,000 different chemicals. At least 250 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer or be toxic, including:

  • lead
  • cyanide
  • arsenic

Breathing secondhand smoke is also called passive smoking.

Secondhand smoke can be harmful to:

  • babies
  • children
  • adults
  • pets

Smokers are also more likely to have a fire in their home.

The way that smoke stays in the air and moves from room to room means that the risks on you and your family remain.

Smoke in your home

There's no hiding from secondhand smoke in your home.

If you smoke at home it can quickly lead to children breathing in harmful levels of air pollution. Worse than those found on the streets of big polluted cities.

Secondhand smoke can move invisibly into or out of open windows or doors. Even when a cigarette is stubbed out the invisible poisons in the smoke can stay around for up to 5 hours.

Smoke in your car

There's no safe level of smoking in a car even when your windows are down. If you smoke in your car, the pollution levels can be 35 times greater than levels the World Health Organization consider safe.

Since 1 September 2015, it's illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying children and young people under the age of 18. You could be fined up to £2,500. 

Smokers can also lose up to £2,000 when they part-exchange their car at a dealer.

Refer to restriction on smoking in motor vehicles for more information about this law.

Risks on babies and children

Tobacco smoke can harm your baby even before they are born. Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk of having:

  • stillbirths
  • premature babies
  • low birth weight babies

Secondhand smoke also has a number of bad effects on children's health. Children and infants are more vulnerable to tobacco smoke than adults because they have smaller airways, breathe faster and their immune systems are still developing.

If your baby or child is exposed to secondhand smoke they will be at higher risk of:

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death
  • breathing problems, coughing, wheezing, croup, and chest infections
  • having asthma symptoms all year round. Exposure to secondhand smoke doubles this risk
  • having meningitis or middle ear infection, also know as glue ear

Adult smoking can have serious impacts on children. Children with parents or carers who smoke are 4 times more likely to start smoking when they are older.

Risks on adults

Short-term effects on adults from exposure to secondhand smoke include:

  • coughing
  • headaches
  • eye and nasal irritation
  • sore throat

Long-term effects include increased risk of:

  • coronary heart disease, with a risk increase of 25% to 30%
  • lung cancer, with a risk increase of 20% to 30%, and other cancers
  • stroke, with a risk increase of 20% to 30%
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other breathing problems

Breathing in secondhand smoke makes the blood stickier, meaning there's an increased risk of blood clots forming, even with brief exposure.

A clot can block blood vessels and cause:

  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • angina
  • heart failure

How to protect yourself and others

You may already take some steps to protect your family, such as opening windows or smoking in a different room. This might get rid of some of the smoke, but there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even short exposure can be harmful to those around you.

The best way to protect those you care for is to make your home completely smokefree. Take any smoking outside and close doors and windows behind you.

Benefits of making your home and car smokefree

When you have a smokefree home and car:

  • your children will be healthier and less likely to miss school because of illness
  • you and your children's eyes and nose will no longer be irritated by smoke
  • your children will be less likely to start smoking
  • your home and car will be cleaner and fresher. It will not need cleaning and decorating as often
  • you will be less likely to have a house fire
  • your pets are likely to be healthier and live longer
  • you may find it easier to give up smoking altogether

To make your home smokefree you can:

  • set a start date
  • tell your family and friends you want to protect the people you care for and ask for their support
  • be positive and remind yourself why you have made the effort to keep your home smokefree
  • make some no-smoking signs with your children and put them up on your door and in your car as a reminder of who you are doing this for
  • make sure cigarettes are out of sight
  • remove ashtrays from the home and car, put them at the back door or outside for when you want to smoke
  • wash your hands after smoking
  • use stop-smoking aids to help stop your smoking cravings, even if you are only trying to avoid smoking for a short time
  • if you're going on a longer car journey, plan where and when to stop to allow for smoking breaks
  • if children are cared for by someone else, for example a child minder, ask them not to smoke or vape inside or when the children are present. 

Secondhand vapour from e-cigarettes or vapes

The long term effects of vaping on health are not yet known as research is still developing. 

It's recommended that you do not use e-cigarettes in a home where children live. However, if you're using an e-cigarette means that you have a smokefree home, this is likely to be safer than smoking.

If you choose to use a vape to stop smoking you can find support and advice on Help2Quit stop smoking.

Jersey consensus statement on e-cigarettes.

Support and contact

If you want to stop smoking the Help2Quit service offers free confidential and specialist support. You are 3 more times likely to quit smoking for good than if you do it alone. Find more information on Help2Quit stop smoking

For further support and guidance contact your Health Care Provider or email or

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