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Secondhand Smoke Exposure in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is secondhand smoke exposure?

Secondhand smoke exposure occurs when someone breathes in smoke or vapor. The smoke or vapor may come directly from a lit cigarette, e-cigarette, cigar, or pipe. It can also be exhaled by someone who is smoking. Particles in smoke and vapor can be found in the air and in dust. The particles can linger on household surfaces, such as counters, carpets, or walls. They also linger on clothes and skin and inside your car. They can stay in your home for weeks or even months after smoking has occurred.

Is secondhand smoke exposure more dangerous for children than for adults?

Children's bodies are still growing and are more likely to be harmed by secondhand smoke. Children breathe in more air than adults do. This means their bodies are exposed to more harmful chemicals in the smoke. Small children also crawl on the floor and put objects in their mouths.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke exposure in children?

Secondhand smoke contains chemicals that can increase your child's risk for serious health conditions:

  • Your child's risk for asthma is increased. If he or she already has asthma, his or her attacks may be worse or occur more often.
  • Your child may develop lung problems. His or her lungs may not grow normally. He or she may have wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. He or she also may have lung infections, such as bronchitis. These problems can lead to other lung problems when your child is an adult.
  • Your child may have more ear infections. He or she also may have fluid in his or her ears more often.
  • Your infant is at greater risk for SIDS. This is when an infant suddenly dies for no known reason during his or her first year of life.
  • Your child is at greater risk for cancer. His or her risk increases for lung cancer and certain childhood cancers, such as leukemia. He or she is also at greater risk for developing cancer as an adult.

What can I do to help prevent secondhand smoke exposure?

  • Quit smoking, if you currently smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not smoke near your child. If you continue to smoke, do not smoke near your child. This includes your home or car. Your child is not protected from secondhand smoke if you only smoke in 1 room. He or she is also not protected if you smoke inside your house or car with the windows open. Move your child away from anyone who is smoking, if possible.
  • Do not allow your child to be in places that allow smoking. Teach your child to avoid secondhand smoke.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Lung Association
    1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
    Washington , DC 20004
    Phone: 1- 202 - 785-3355
    Phone: 1- 800 - 548-8252
    Web Address:
    Phone: 1- 800 - 784-8669
    Web Address:

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has shortness of breath.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child is coughing, wheezing, or sneezing more than normal.
  • Your child's asthma symptoms have gotten worse.
  • Your child has a fever.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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