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Secondhand Smoke and Children: The Dangers We Don't See

Children can be in real danger if anyone smokes around them. Breathing in someone else’s smoke can be just as deadly as smoking. Millions of children are breathing in secondhand smoke in their own homes.

But what is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the inhalation of smoke in the air that comes from the burning tip of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. There are about 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and 50 of the chemicals are known to cause cancer. Some of these chemicals are usually found in batteries, lighters, poison, rocket fuel and insecticide. Anytime children breathe in the smoke, they breathe in these chemicals. Secondhand smoke can travel about 20 feet in every direction and may stay around for hours. The smoke can travel through vents inside a house and is even absorbed in the walls, carpet, and furniture.

In children, secondhand smoke can cause more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, respiratory symptoms (i.e., coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath), and are at a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) because their lungs are still developing.

To protect yourself and your children from secondhand smoke, do not allow anyone to smoke in or near your home. Inform yourself and make sure your children’s daycare center and school are tobacco-free. Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking and to stay away from secondhand smoke. Remember to always be a good role model by not smoking or using any type of tobacco products.

With funding from First 5 California, the California Smokers' Helpline provides free nicotine patches to qualified callers who are pregnant or have children age 5 or under. Helpline staff screen callers who request nicotine patches for contraindications, including pregnancy. For callers with contraindications, physician approval is required. For help to quit smoking visit the California Smokers’ Helpline at or you can call 1-800-622-8777 for free telephone counseling, self-help materials, and online help in six languages.

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