Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a mixture of the sidestream smoke released by a smoldering cigarette, pipe, hookah/waterpipe, or cigar, and the mainstream smoke exhaled by a person who is smoking. SHS is a complex mixture containing thousands of chemicals, including formaldehyde, cyanide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and nicotine. More than 250 of the chemicals in SHS are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.

Conclusive scientific evidence documents that SHS causes premature death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke. Among adults, exposure to SHS has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, and long-term exposure to SHS causes coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. Children exposed to SHS are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth.

There is no risk-free level of exposure to SHS, and eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect people who do not smoke from exposure to SHS. Exposure to SHS among nonsmoking persons can be assessed by measurement of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine. While cotinine levels may vary by individual due to the speed of nicotine metabolism and cotinine clearance, detection of cotinine above a minimum threshold is a validated measure of exposure to SHS in people who do not smoke.

The percentage of nonsmoking persons exposed to secondhand smoke. (The percentage of nonsmoking persons aged 3 years and older with a serum cotinine level greater than 0.05 ng/mL and less than or equal to 10 ng/mL.)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The Cancer Trends Progress Report uses NHANES data through 2017-2018. The 2019-2020 cycle was not completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available at NHANES Questionnaires, Datasets, and Related Documentation.

  • Reduce the proportion of people who do not smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke to 17.4%.

Healthy People 2030 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Note: Goals are indicated as blue line on Detailed Trend Graphs.

Secondhand Smoke