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Health risks of second-hand smoke

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Second-hand smoke, sometimes referred to as passive smoking, means breathing in other people’s tobacco smoke.

Second-hand smoke is a major source of indoor pollution and there is now clear evidence that environmental tobacco smoke damages the health of non-smokers. 

Immediate effects of exposure to second-hand smoke for non-smokers can include:

  • eye irritation
  • headache and
  • respiratory symptoms.

Adults with asthma can experience a significant decline in lung function.

Long term exposure to second-hand (passive) smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory illness among adult non-smokers. It is a cause of respiratory disease, cot death, middle ear infection and asthmatic attacks in children.

A review carried out in 2004 by the UK Government-appointed Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) estimated that non-smoking adults exposed to second-hand smoke were 24 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer and 25 per cent more at risk of heart disease.

The Committee concluded that second-hand smoke is a serious public health risk.