What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke breathed out/exhaled by a smoker, as well as the smoke from the burning tip of a cigarette. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals which includes poisonous gases - 50 of these are known to cause cancer.

More than 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, and can linger in the home for hours. So no matter how careful you are with where you smoke, those around you can still breathe in harmful poisons.

Why not try our short smokefree homes quiz? Test your knowledge and see what you know about secondhand smoke and how to make a home smokefree.

Effects of secondhand smoke

Did you know a non-smoker who is exposed to secondhand smoke is more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or lung cancer? So when someone smokes, everyone is put at risk, especially children and pets.

Babies and children

Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke because their bodies are still developing and they cannot get away from the exposure. As a result they are more at risk of developing bronchitis, asthma, ear infections, and are also more at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (cot death). Children living with smokers are also three times more likely to smoke than children living in a non-smoking home.


Just like people, pets can have a strong reaction to the smoke and can develop respiratory infections, lung inflammation, asthma and can also increase pets risk of cancer and other illnesses. Not only do pets inhale the toxic air, they also absorb dangerous chemicals when they groom themselves because of the toxins from tobacco smoke in their fur.

Making your home and car smokefree

Did you know by opening windows and having non-smoking rooms do not protect people from secondhand smoke. Even once a cigarette has been put out, smoke clings to fabrics like clothes, curtains and furniture.

The only way to completely protect others from the harms of secondhand smoke is to make your home and car completely smokefree.

Here are some ways to help make your home smokefree:

  • Smoke outside and well away from the back door - windows and doors should be closed, so that smoke cannot waft back in.
  • Remove ashtrays, matches and lighters from the home.
  • Ask visitors not to smoke.
  • Set up a smoking area outside.
  • Leave an umbrella/coat by the back door.
  • Put signs up to remind you and others not to smoke.
    *Wash and vacuum floors and upholstery.

Since October 2015, it has been illegal to smoke in the car with a child under 18. Here are a few ways you can make your car smokefree:

  • Plan car journeys and allow regular stops for smoking breaks outside the car.
  • Keep several packs of sugar-free gum in the glove compartment

You could change your habits by replacing smoking with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which comes in a variety of forms such as; gums, patches nasal inhalers and lozenges. Talk with your doctor about NRT to help control any cravings.

Benefits of making your home and car smokefree

Making your home and car smokefree can bring many benefits which includes:

  • No more ashtrays and lighters cluttering up the house.
  • Enjoy a cleaner and brighter home.
  • Reduce the risk of house fires - more people die in fires caused by smokers' materials than any other cause.
  • Save money - many smokers are likely to cut down or stop smoking if they have to smoke outside.
  • Food is likely to taste and smell better.

Support to stop smoking

Quit 51, the stop smoking service in Surrey offers free supportive, non-judgemental help and advice to help you on your smokefree journey. Quit 51 can offer one to one or group support, including NRT and medication.

With this kind of support you are four times more likely to succeed at quitting than going it alone.

Visit the Quit51 website
Tel: 0800 622 696 or text 'smokefree' to 66777
Email: contact.quit51@nhs.net

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