Written by Diana Abdi, BS.  Those living or associating with smokers have a 20% greater risk of lung cancer.

In the U.S. alone, tobacco smoking is one of the major causes of death and disease, responsible for an estimated 434,000 deaths annually (1). Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also referred to as secondhand smoke, is an occupational carcinogen (4), responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in U.S. non-smokers (3). Secondhand smoke is a combination of exhaled mainstream smoke and side stream smoke, the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette (3, 4). An estimated 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke are known to be toxic or cancer causing agents, according to the National Toxicology Program (4).

The U.S. economy faces the cost of approximately $10 billion annually due to secondhand tobacco smoke  as shown from a study conducted at Georgia State University(5). This estimated the medical cost of secondhand smoke related issues to roughly $5 billion per year (5). The study also concluded lost wages at approximately $4.6 billion, but did not include treatment of children who become ill or die from the effect of secondhand smoke (5).

Children are primarily effected and susceptible to serious health risks of secondhand smoke because of their underdeveloped immune system (4).

Children who are exposed to ETS have a high risk of developing damaging health effects. Exposure to ETS can increase risk of lower respiratory tract infection such as bronchitis and pneumonia, increase prevalence of chronic middle ear disease, and aggravate the upper respiratory tract in children (1). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated nearly 150,000 to 300,000 of these cases annually is developed in infants and young children up to 18 months of age due to ETS exposure (1,3). Children, who have not shown asthmatic symptoms in the past, can develop asthma from ETS exposure (3) and ETS can also increase the frequency and severance of episodes in asthmatic children (1). Mothers, who smoke while pregnant and after giving birth, increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) for their baby (4).

It is evident that exposure to ETS can increase the risk of health effects or even result in death in both children and adults. In adults, studies have shown that nonsmoking men and woman living or associating with individuals, who smoke, increase their risk of lung cancer by 20% on average (2, 6). Children and infants are especially susceptible to the risks of ETS because of their underdeveloped immune system; they have higher breathing rates and cannot control their environments as well as adults (1, 3). About 11% of children under the age of 6 are exposed to ETS in their homes and parents are responsible for nearly 90% of children’s exposure to ETS (3). It is apparent that ETS in the U.S. presents a serious and substantial risk on public health (1) and in order to prevent some of these risks, appropriate safety measures need to be taken to minimize exposure to ETS.

 Source: “Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke”. Posted March 21, 2011.


  1. “Fact Sheet: Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking.”  Office of Research and Development and Office of Air and Radiation. EPA DOC. 43. F-93-003.   13 Oct. 2010. See the United States Environmental Protection Agency website.
  2. “Fact Sheet: The ‘Report On Carcinogens’-9th Edition.”  NIH News Release.
    15 May 2000. See the National Institute of Health website.
  3. “Health Effects of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.”  US EPA. 13 Oct. 2010. See the United States Environmental Protection Agency website.
  4. “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke:  A Report of the Surgeon General.”  US Department of Health and Human Services. 7 Jan. 2007. See the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
  5.  “Second-hand Smoke Price Tag: $10B.”  CNN: Jobs and Economy. 17 Aug. 2005. See the CNN Money website.
  6. Brody, Jane A.  “Blame’s Net Catches Lung Cancer Patients.” New York Times Reprints.  12 July 2010. See The New York Times website.