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Your Child's Health, Our Priority, Always

Secondhand (and thirdhand) Smoke Exposure in Children – Why does it matter and what can you do about it?

quit smokingSecondhand smoke is the smoke from a burning cigarette or smoke breathed out by a smoker.  This smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer.

When a child breathes secondhand smoke, they are exposed to all these chemicals. 

Thirdhand smoke is the smoke and harmful toxins left behind after someone has been smoking.  This can include walls, furniture, upholstery in cars, clothing, and even the smoker’s hair.

Effects on infants and children

Infants exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Children exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of:

  • Ear infection
  • Upper respiratory infections (coughs/colds)
  • Lower respiratory infections (bronchitis, pneumonia)
  • Tooth decay

Exposure can also cause chronic nasal symptoms, eye symptoms, and headaches. 

Children with asthma have more frequent and more severe asthma attacks when exposed to secondhand smoke. 

Children exposed to secondhand smoke also take longer to recover from respiratory infections with symptoms often lasting longer.


Mothers who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke have higher risk of miscarriage.

Their babies have a high risk of premature birth, low birth weight, SIDS, and ADHD.

Creating a smoke free environment for children

If you smoke, quitting is the best way to protect your child from secondhand smoke exposure.

    • Until you quit, DO NOT smoke inside your home, car, or anywhere near your children, even when outside.
    • Avoid smoking in the home or car even when children are not present to avoid thirdhand smoke residue.
  • E-cigarettes and vaping also contain many chemicals and should be avoided around children 
  • Ask anyone who cares for your child to follow these same rules.
  • Keep children away from or out of areas where smoking is allowed.
  • Choose childcare and babysitters who are smoke free and have smoke free home.

Resources for quitting

Quitting smoking is one of the more important ways that you can affect your children’s (and your own) health in a positive way. 

Quitting may be difficult but there are effective, safe, proven methods for doing so.  

Talk to your doctor or child’s pediatrician if you need assistance. 

1-800-QUIT-NOW  can connect you to local resources to help you quit.