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Passive smoking

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Passive smoke can damage the health of anyone who breathes it in — especially babies, children and pregnant women.
  • Passive smoke comes from the burning end of the tobacco product AND the smoke that the smoker breathes out.
  • Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. This includes about 70 substances that can cause cancer.
  • In Australia, state and territory governments are mainly responsible for smoke-free laws.
  • To protect yourself and your children, keep your home and car smoke-free.

What is passive smoking?

Passive or second-hand smoking occurs when a non-smoker breathes in second-hand tobacco smoke. This can come from other people's:

  • cigarettes
  • vapes
  • cigars
  • pipes

Passive smoking can happen when you are in the same: room, house, car or public place as someone who is smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. This includes about 70 substances that can cause cancer. Even small amounts of smoke are harmful.

Passive smoke can damage the health of anyone who breathes it in. This is especially true for: babies, children and pregnant women.

Passive smoking is never safe.

Where does second-hand smoke come from?

Passive smoke comes from:

  • the burning ends of cigarettes, cigars or pipes
  • the smoke that the smoker breathes out

How does passive smoking affect your health?

Passive smoking can cause or worsen the following conditions and diseases:

Passive smoking and pregnancy, babies and children

In pregnant women, passive smoking can:

Babies and children exposed to passive smoking may develop illnesses such as:

In babies, passive smoking can contribute to sudden infant death syndrome, possibly because chemicals from the smoke affect the brain and interfere with breathing.

Children of parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves.

Babies and children are at risk from passive smoking because they can't control their environment.

What can I do as a parent or carer?

If you are a smoker the best thing you can do is think about quitting.

You can also:

  • keep your house smoke free
  • keep your car smoke free
  • make sure that your family, friends and other carers don't smoke around your children
  • teach your children to stay away from second-hand smoke

How does second-hand smoke affect my pet?

Research has shown that second-hand smoke has similar effects on the health of pets to those seen in people.

How to reduce your exposure to passive smoke

The only way to totally protect people from second-hand smoke is not to allow smoking in homes and other indoor spaces.

To protect yourself and your children, keep your home smoke-free.

Ask your partner, family or friends to smoke or vape outside. It isn't enough for them to go to another room, as smoke can move through your house.

Encourage the smoker to quit. Even smoke particles on their clothes can harm people.

How does the law protect me from passive smoke?

In Australia, it's illegal to smoke in enclosed public places including:

  • on public transport — trains, planes and buses
  • in office buildings
  • in shopping malls
  • in schools
  • cinemas
  • in airports

In all states and territories, it is illegal to smoke in a car with a minor. A minor is someone under the age of 16, 17 or 18. The age depends on the state or territory you are in.

State and territory governments are mainly responsible for smoke-free laws in Australia. Smoke-free laws:

  • protect you from second-hand smoke
  • encourage you to quit smoking

You can check your state's legislation to ban smoking in public spaces for the latest information.

In most states and territories, you can't use e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is banned.

What can I do about second-hand smoke if I am a smoker?

If you are a smoker, consider quitting. If you'd like help and support, go to the Quitline website or call 13 7848.

To protect non-smokers from your smoke:

  • at home, smoke outdoors
  • never smoke in the car
  • don't smoke near playgrounds or other places where there are children or pregnant women
  • stay down-wind of people in parks or picnic spots
  • respect other people's right to a smoke-free environment

Do vapes create second-hand smoke?

Passive vaping comes from the vapour that is breathed out. There is no smoke released from the vape itself.

The vapour contains water and:

  • volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde
  • metals
  • fine and ultrafine particles

These toxic substances may increase your chance of heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.

Passive vaping also contains other chemicals such as:

  • propylene glycol
  • glycerol
  • flavourings

It's not known if these substances are safe to inhale.

Short-term exposure to passive vaping has been shown to:

  • irritate eyes
  • irritate airways
  • worsen respiratory conditions

Since 1 October 2021, you need a prescription to buy nicotine containing e‑cigarette products for any purpose. This includes importing these products from overseas.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

This information was originally published on healthdirect - Passive smoking.

Last reviewed: November 2022


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Need more information?

Passive smoking and your health

Information on passive smoking and your health.

Read more on WA Health website

Passive smoking - Better Health Channel

Passive smoking means breathing other people's second-hand tobacco smoke. Passive smoking increases the risk of serious illness in both children and adults.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Passive smoking | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is passive smoking? Passive smoking is breathing in smoke from other people’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Smoking, pregnancy and breastfeeding | NT.GOV.AU

Smoking during pregnancy, passive smoking and why you should quit smoking.

Read more on NT Health website

Smoking and tobacco | Cancer Council

Find information on the effects of smoking and passive smoking, Cancer Council's work to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, and how to quit

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Quit & Your Fertility interactive tool | Your Fertility

If you're planning to have a baby, it's important to know that smoking reduces fertility and passive smoking is almost as damaging to fertility as smoking

Read more on Your Fertility website

Smoking and pregnancy

Find out how smoking affects your fertility and pregnancy, and why quitting smoking will improve your health and give your baby the best start in life.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Smoking and vaping | ACT Health

Read more on ACT Health website

Smoking | Red Nose Australia

Smoking in pregnancy increases your baby’s risk of death during pregnancy and up to one year of age

Read more on Red Nose website

Effects of caffeine, alcohol and smoking on reproductive outcomes

Some lifestyle behaviours are known to affect fertility, pregnancy health and the health of the baby at birth and in adulthood. Here is what you need to know about how caffeine, alcohol and smoking affect fertility and reproductive outcomes.

Read more on Your Fertility website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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