Skip to main content

Outdoor Secondhand Smoke Exposure…What's the risk?

Until recent years, very little research has been done regarding outdoor secondhand smoke exposure. One of the first studies was published in 2007 by Stanford University. The study found that someone sitting just a few feet downwind from a lit cigarette could be exposed to substantial amounts of contaminated air. The study also found that levels of exposure do not begin to significantly diminish until a person moves roughly six feet away from an outdoor smoker.

“We were surprised to discover that being within a few feet of a smoker outdoors may expose you to air pollution levels that are comparable, on average, to indoor levels that we measured in previous studies of homes and taverns.” – Wayne Ott, Stanford University

The bottom line is that no level of secondhand smoke is safe. Even short exposures can have adverse effects on the body, specifically the heart and respiratory system. Since 1964, 2.5 million non-smokers have died due to health problems caused by secondhand smoke.

Exposure is especially harmful to children, who may experience increased ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and sneezing, respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and also an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). For adults, risks include heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory illnesses, and stroke.

There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from secondhand smoke.

  • If you smoke, quit – call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for FREE assistance
  • Dine at restaurants and visit other places that do not allow smoking
  • Do not allow smoking inside or near your home
  • Do not allow smoking inside your car, even with the windows rolled down
  • Teach your children and ­­­other family members to stay away from secondhand smoke

For more information about this and other tobacco control issues in Jefferson County, contact Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coordinator, Natalie Garrett at 812-801-0598.

Sources: Stanford University Study, 2007

CDC Fact Sheet - Secondhand Smoke

Subscribe to This Week in Health to get the latest health news delivered to your inbox.