Tobacco Fact File


Smoke-Filled Room


What’s a little smoke among friends? 

Breathing in environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is much more dangerous than most of us ex-smokers thought. We had no idea what health risks we were exposing others to when we smoked.

What is ETS?

Just what’s in Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS)? 

Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or secondhand smoke contains the same poisons that you inhale when you smoke. These include such chemicals as formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide, radioactive compounds, benzene and carton monoxide. Actually, the smoke you don’t inhale may contain higher amounts of these poisons because what you inhale is burned at a higher temperature that destroys some of the toxins, and it’s filtered.

Does ETS kill?

Environmental tobacco smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in this country. It kills approximately 53,000 nonsmokers in the U.S. each year through heart disease. For every eight smokers who die from cigarettes, so does one nonsmoker. (Glantz, S.A. & Parmley, W., "Passive Smoking and Heart Disease: Epidemiology, Physiology, and Biochemistry," Circulation, 1991; 83(1): 1-12; and, Taylor, A., Johnson, D. & Kazemi, H., "Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Cardiovascular Disease," Circulation, 1992; 86: 699-702)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that being in the presence of a spouse, parent or coworker who smokes causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year. As a smoker, someone living with you has a 30% increased chance of getting lung cancer or having a heart attack. If you smoke around your kids, they absorb nicotine also. In fact, a child whose father smokes inhales the equivalent of about 30 cigarettes a year. If the mother smokes, its about the same as 50 cigarettes a year. And if both smoke, it’s the equivalent of that child smoking four packs of cigarettes a year

Hazard of ETS

ETS also causes such problems as burning eyes, hoarseness, throat irritation, sneezing, headache and nausea. People with asthma, hay fever, sinusitis, emphysema and other health conditions are especially sensitive to cigarette smoke.

ETS seriously risks children’s health. 

Children’s lung tissue is especially vulnerable to the effects of smoking, even relatively low concentrations. Smoking around your kids puts them at increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. EPA estimates that passive smoking is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age annually. This results in hospitalization of somewhere between 7,500 and 15,000 kids each year. 

ETS is also associated with:

- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) for approximately 2300 infants each year.
- Meningococcal infections
- Cancers and leukemia in childhood
- Slower growth
- Adverse neurobehavioral effects
- Upper respiratory tract infections (colds and sore throats)
- Unfavorable cholesterol levels and initiation of atherosclerosis (heart disease)

Adding to the expense of health care.

A U.S. analysis of over 100 reports on pediatric diseases concluded that exposing children to ETS is responsible for up to:

- 13% of ear infection or approximately 2,200,000 cases.
- 26% of tympanostomy tube insertions for approximately 165,000 children.
- 24% of tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies, or approximately 21,000 operations.
- 13% of asthma cases, which equates to approximately 520,000 cases.)
- 16% of physician visits for cough or about 2,000,000 visits annually.
- 20% of all lung infections in children under 5. This represents approximately 436,000 cases of bronchitis and 190,000 cases of pneumonia each year.
- 136-212 childhood deaths from lower respiratory infection.
- 148 childhood deaths from fires started by tobacco products.

Even half an hour of ETS exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers. Nonsmokers' heart arteries showed a reduced ability to dilate, diminishing the ability of the heart to get life-giving blood. In addition, the same half hour of ETS activates blood platelets, which can initiate the process of atherosclerosis (blockage of the heart's arteries) that leads to a heart attack. These effects explain other research showing that nonsmokers regularly exposed to ETS suffer death or morbidity rates 30 percent higher than that of unexposed nonsmokers. (Otsuka, R., et al. "Acute Effects of Passive Smoking on the Coronary Circulation in Healthy Young Adults," Journal of the American Medical Association, 286: 436-441, 2001) (Burghuber, O., et al. "Platelet sensitivity to prostacyclin in smokers and non-smokers," Chest, 90: 34-38, 1986)

You see, cigarette smoke just doesn’t do any body any good. Think on some of these facts and let it help motivate you to quit. You, your family, friends, anybody around you, they’re all better off when you don’t light up.


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