Cite this article

NIDA. (2013, April 23). Secondhand Smoke: You’re Exposed to More Than You Think. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
April 23 2013

Many of us don’t realize how much secondhand smoke we inhale each day. We tend to forget about the person smoking outside a restaurant or sitting on a park bench. People’s smoking in the apartment next door affects us as well.

While these encounters with secondhand smoke seem harmless, they can mean a lot to your health.

  • Secondhand smoke contains many of the same chemicals as inhaled smoke.
  • According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, effects of secondhand smoke kill 42,000 Americans each year, including nearly 900 infants.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in a healthy nonsmoker.
  • Another recent study found that people exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

To figure out your level of secondhand smoke exposure, doctors can measure the amount of cotinine in your blood, saliva, or urine. Cotinine is the chemical created by the body when nicotine is metabolized. Measuring cotinine levels is more accurate than relying on people to remember how much exposure they have to smoking.

Newer research shows that even exposure to third-hand smoke—the chemicals from smoking that remain on surfaces and in dust—can be detrimental.

How can you avoid secondhand smoke?

  • Politely ask people not to smoke around you.
  • Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
  • Encourage people to use designated smoking areas that are far away from building entrances and crowded areas.
  • Encourage friends and family members who want to quit smoking.

Are you worried about being exposed to more smoke than you thought? What can you do to reduce your exposure?