Tobacco Prevention and Control:
Secondhand Smoke and Secondhand Vapor


What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals from smoke exhaled by someone who is smoking, as well as smoke emitted from the lit end of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos or pipes.

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Is secondhand smoke harmful?

Secondhand smoke causes early death and disease in both children and adults who do not smoke. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic, and about 70 of which cause cancer.

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What are the health effects of secondhand smoke?

Adults exposed to secondhand smoke may experience:
  • A greater risk for heart attack.
  • Heart disease; secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 nonsmoker heart disease deaths annually.
  • Lung cancer; secondhand smoke causes more than 7,300 nonsmoker lung cancer deaths annually.
  • Stroke.
Children and infants exposed to secondhand smoke may experience:
  • A greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); an estimated 430 babies die each year of SIDS due to secondhand smoke.
  • Frequent and severe asthma attacks.
  • Respiratory infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis.
  • Respiratory symptoms like coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Ear infections.
While secondhand smoke harms both children and adults, there is increased concern for children.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to the risks of secondhand smoke as they are still growing.
  • Children may have little control over their surroundings and may not be able to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Children whose parent or guardian smokes in the home or vehicle may be at increased risk for secondhand smoke-related disease and illness.

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What is the impact of Freedom to Breathe?

The Freedom to Breathe provisions, which were added to the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act on October 1, 2007, help protect workers and the public from the health risks of secondhand smoke by prohibiting smoking in nearly all indoor public places and places of employment, including offices, restaurants, and bars.

Title: Most recent exposure of Minnesotans to secondhand smoke in community settings, by type of setting - Description: In 2007, the most commonly reported locations for community exposure to secondhand smoke were bars or taverns and restaurants serving alcohol.  The most commonly reported locations in 2010 were parks or somewhere outdoors, followed by a building entrances and another person’s home. The changes from 2007 to 2010 likely reflect the addition of Minnesota’s Freedom to Breathe provisions. Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey, 2007 & 2010

The chart above shows in 2007, the most commonly reported locations for community exposure to secondhand smoke were bars or taverns and restaurants serving alcohol. The most commonly reported locations in 2010 were parks or somewhere outdoors, followed by a building entrances and another person's home. The changes from 2007 to 2010 likely reflect the addition of Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe provisions.

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How many Minnesotans are still exposed to secondhand smoke?

Progress in reducing youth secondhand smoke exposure has slowed considerably in recent years; as shown below, almost 30 percent of 5th graders, and nearly 40 percent of 11th graders report secondhand smoke exposure within the last seven days. Youth with asthma are also more likely than those without asthma to report exposure to secondhand smoke.

Title: Any secondhand smoke exposure in last seven days - Description: Almost 30 percent of 5th graders, and nearly 40 percent of 11th graders report secondhand smoke exposure within the last seven days. Minnesota Student Survey, 2013

Almost half of Minnesotan adults report secondhand smoke exposure within the last seven days, and adults aged 18-24 are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke in any location than any other age group.

Since enactment of Freedom to Breathe, Minnesotans are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke in community settings; the most commonly reported location for community exposure is a park or somewhere outdoors, followed by building entrances and another person’s home.

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How can someone avoid secondhand smoke?

Despite smoke-free laws, such as the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act and the addition of Freedom to Breathe, many children and families are still exposed to secondhand smoke in homes, cars, outdoor public places such as college campuses or parks, or anytime they are around someone who is smoking.

Eliminating smoking indoors is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. Separate “no smoking” sections, filtering air, or opening doors and windows does not protect people from secondhand smoke.

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What is secondhand vapor?

Secondhand vapor is a mixture of chemicals exhaled by the user of an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette).

It cannot be assumed that vapors emitted from e-cigarettes are safe to inhale. Vapors from some e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals known to cause cancer, as well as nicotine. Nicotine, which is highly addictive, may harm pregnant mothers and their babies, and damage adolescent brain growth and development.

At this time, the long-term health effects of exposure to secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes are largely unknown. E-cigarettes and their contents are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); with inconsistencies in product quality, and the growing number of brands and products, it is difficult to know the amounts of potentially harmful chemicals in the e-cigarette vapors that people are exposed to.

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This information is also available in PDF form: Secondhand Smoke and Secondhand Vapor (PDF: 379KB/2 pages)

For more information:

American Lung Association in Minnesota
Association for Nonsmokers - Minnesota
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Public Health Law Center
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Updated Thursday, May 08, 2014 at 08:34AM