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Secondhand Smoke

A veteran walking on the beach with his son on his shoulders

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of two forms of tobacco smoke:

  • Sidestream smoke: Smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar
  • Mainstream smoke: The smoke inhaled and then exhaled by a person who is smoking

Tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are poisonous and reach every organ in your body.

You expose those around you to secondhand smoke when you smoke in the home, cars, the workplace, bars, and restaurants. Help the health of those you love by quitting tobacco.

Toxic to those around you

Secondhand smoke is responsible for thousands of deaths. Breathing even a little of it can be dangerous:

  • It affects babies before and after they are born
  • It causes cancer in adults
  • It can affect lung development and make asthma worse in infants and children
  • It causes heart diseases

Secondhand smoke causes many of the same health effects as smoking cigarettes.

Increased risk of heart attack

Sitting in a smoky bar or a car with someone who is smoking raises your odds of a heart attack. Inhaling secondhand smoke causes:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure to go up
  • Your blood vessels to thicken and grow narrower
  • Platelets in your blood to get sticky, which may lead to clots

Harmful to pets

Tobacco smoke affects pets. Making your home smoke-free is one of the most loving things you can do for your pets.

  • Pets who breathe secondhand smoke develop health problems like cancer and heart trouble and have breathing problems just like humans.
  • Pets may eat cigarette or cigar butts, which can cause nicotine poisoning.

Any amount of secondhand smoke is harmful to both humans and pets.

Smoke stays in confined spaces

If you live with a Veteran who smokes, simply having them smoke in a separate room does not protect you and others.

Chemicals from tobacco smoke stay in a room even after the person is done smoking and can get in to fabrics (couches and rugs). These chemicals can also spread through the air to places outside of the room. Exposure isn't just limited to buildings. Exposure is much higher in vehicles, even with the windows down.

Prevent secondhand smoke by quitting

The best way to prevent secondhand smoke is to encourage and help the person who smokes to quit.

If you smoke, the sooner you quit, the sooner you stop exposing those around you to secondhand smoke.

Contact the nearest VA health care facility to schedule an appointment with your health care provider about tobacco cessation counseling, medication and other resources. You can also call the VA smoking quitline at 1-855-QUIT-VET (1-855-784-8838) to speak with a tobacco cessation counselor.

Steps to take if you must smoke

To protect those around you when you smoke:

  • Smoke outside of your home and stay away from open doors and windows.
  • If you are in a car with others, pull over and step out of the car to smoke.
  • When at work, smoke away from the building and stay away from open doors and windows.
  • Choose smoke-free restaurants when dining out with others.
  • Change your clothes after you smoke as particles from your cigarette can get in cloth.