Secondhand Smoke

There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.

Even a small amount is harmful.

There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke.  Hundreds of these chemicals are toxic and about 70 are known to cause cancer.

About 31% of Connecticut adult were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke and/or aerosol from an electronic tobacco product and 30.5% of youth (Visit the Tobacco Statistics Reports page for more information).

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Smoke from the end of a burning cigarette, cigar, pipe, or similar device, as well as smoke exhaled from a smoker's mouth.  Secondhand smoke (SHS) is also referred to as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS).

What is Thirdhand Smoke?

Particles in secondhand smoke that settle onto carpets, furniture, clothes, drapes, walls, and other surfaces.  Thirdhand smoke can be found in household dust which becomes airborne and is inhaled.

Children are also at higher risk for ingesting thirdhand smoke by placing things in their mouth (including their hands) that have been contaminated.  Pets are at a similar risk of ingesting thirdhand smoke by cleaning themselves and drinking water that has had smoke settle into it.

What is in second- and thirdhand smoke?

Arsenic (rat poison)  Carbon Monoxide (car exhaust) 
Cadmium (chemical in batteries) Mercury (liquid metal) 
Vinyl chloride (found in PVC pipe) Formaldehyde (embalming fluid) 
Hydrogen cyanide (chemical weapon) Acetone (nail polish remover) 
Nicotine (addictive drug and pesticide) Toluene (paint thinner)
Methanol (rocket fuel) Butane (lighter fluid)
Ammonia (cleaner) Lead (metal used in buildings)
Nickel (metal in batteries) Polonium (radioactive element)

Health effects

  • Secondhand smoke damages the lining of blood vessels and causes blood platelets to become stickier which can cause blockages that can lead to heart attacks.
  • People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk of suffering adverse effects from breathing secondhand smoke and should take special precautions to avoid even brief exposures.
  • Breathing secondhand smoke can cause lung infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, especially in children.
  • Other breathing problems include coughing, mucus, chest discomfort, and reduced lung function.
  • Breathing secondhand smoke increases the number and severity of asthma attacks.

How to protect you, your family, and your pets

Do not allow smoking in your home, car or around your children.  Using fans, exhaust systems, air cleaners or opening windows does not eliminate all the toxins from tobacco smoke and cannot keep you or your family safe.  It can take three or more hours for the smoke of one cigarette to clean a room or confined space.  tobacco smoke will travel from room to room or unit to unit through doors, windows, plumbing, electrical outlets, crawl spaces and attics.  The only way to eliminate the risk of secondhand smoke is to stay away from secondhand smoke.

Resources by type of smoke free environment

Resources and links

Sample signage

Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Surgeon General Report on Second Hand Smoke Exposure

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Smoking Health


Back to the Tobacco Control Program home page

This page was updated on October 18, 2021