Smoking and Others (Passive Smoking)

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If you smoke, one good reason to give up smoking is to benefit those who live and work with you. If you cannot give up, you should make every effort to keep cigarette smoke away from other people.

  • Children and babies who live in a home where there is a smoker:
    • Are more prone to asthma, and ear, nose and chest infections.
    • Have an increased risk of dying from cot death (sudden infant death syndrome).
    • Are more likely than average to become smokers themselves when older.
    • On average, do less well at reading and reasoning skills compared to children in smoke-free homes, even at low levels of smoke exposure.
    • Are at increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer as adults.
  • Passive smoking of adults. You have an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease if you are exposed to other people smoking for long periods of time. For example, the risk of developing lung cancer is increased by about 20-30% in people who are regularly exposed to other people's cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke is also an irritant, and can make asthma and other conditions worse.
  • Unborn babies. Smoking when you are pregnant can harm your unborn baby. See separate leaflet called Pregnancy and Smoking for more details.

The overall health impact of passive smoking is large. Although the health risks from passive smoking are small for the individual in comparison with the health risks from active smoking, the public health consequences of passive smoking are high due to the large numbers of people exposed.

For example, passive smoking by people living with smokers in the UK increases the risk of death from coronary heart disease by 50-60%. It is estimated to cause around 2,700 deaths per year in people aged 20-64, and a further 8,000 deaths per year among people aged 65 or older.

It is estimated that children breathing in other people's cigarette smoke resulted in 300,000 GP visits and 9,500 hospital admissions in 2011 in the UK. Up to five million children are thought to be regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home.

The results of a survey on children's views on smoking was published on the Department of Health's website. The survey revealed that children want smoke-free lives.

The survey found that:

  • 98% of children wished their parents would stop smoking.
  • 82% of children wished their parents wouldn't smoke in front of them at home.
  • 78% of children wished their parents wouldn't smoke in front of them in the car.
  • 41% of children said cigarette smoke made them feel ill.
  • 42% of children said cigarette smoke made them cough.
  • Doctors and patients can use Decision Aids together to help choose the best course of action to take.
  • Compare the options  

About two in three smokers want to stop smoking. Some people can give up easily. Willpower and determination are the most important aspects when giving up smoking. However, nicotine is a drug of addiction and many people find giving up a struggle. Help is available.

  • GPs, practice nurses or pharmacists can provide information, encouragement and tips on stopping smoking. Also, throughout the country there are specialist NHS Stop Smoking Clinics which have a good success record in helping people to stop smoking. Your doctor may refer you to one if you are keen to stop smoking.
  • Various medicines can increase your chance of quitting. These include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which comes as gums, sprays, patches, tablets, lozenges and inhalers. You can buy NRT without a prescription. Also, medicines called bupropion and varenicline can help. These are available on prescription. See separate leaflets called Nicotine Replacement Therapy, Bupropion (Zyban®) and Varenicline (Champix®).

See also separate leaflet called Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
4764 (v43)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member
Now read about Smoking Cessation

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