Are You a “Secondhand Smoker”?

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An illustration of a woman and girl standing in secondhand smoke from a man smoking a cigarette.

We published this post originally in 2016. This update reflects current research as of November 2019. 


Teens continue to get the message that smoking is risky business. In 2018, 8 in 100 high school seniors reported smoking a cigarette in the past month. In 1997, that number was about four times higher (nearly 37 in 100).

But what about secondhand smoke, which is exhaled or given off by the burning end of tobacco products?

According to a study published earlier this year, from 2013 to 2016, more than one in three (35.4%) U.S. youth aged 3 to 17 who don’t smoke were exposed to secondhand smoke from burning cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.

Why does this matter? Because secondhand smoke comes with some of the same risks as smoking:

  • Exposure to harmful chemicals.
  • Increased risk for lung cancer.
  • Higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Because of the serious risks associated with secondhand smoke, it’s worth steering clear of it whenever you can. Here are some ways you can reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • Support friends and family who are trying to quit smoking. People are more likely to quit for good when they feel encouraged by people who care for them. For support in quitting, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to local resources, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
  • Politely ask your friends (and maybe your family) to not smoke when you’re in the car or in the same room. Ask them to smoke outside, or excuse yourself from the room while they smoke.
  • Move away from people near you who are smoking. (Okay, that one is kind of obvious, but it works!)

You can’t guarantee you’ll never be exposed to secondhand smoke, but you can take some steps to protect your health:

  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
  • If you don’t smoke, don’t start!
  • And when you can, avoid breathing in secondhand smoke.

Learn more: Three surprising risks from vaping.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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