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What Are the Dangers of Secondhand Smoke?

What are the dangers of secondhand smoke? I was exposed to it the other night for an extended period of time and I felt horrible afterward. What is it doing to my body?

Many people think that because they don't smoke, they don't have to worry about cigarettes.

The truth is that breathing in secondhand smoke, which is a combination of the smoke coming from the burning end of a cigarette or cigar (sidestream smoke) and the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker (mainstream smoke), is almost as dangerous as smoking. People who smoke don't intend to put others around them in danger, but in essence this is what they are doing.

Besides stinking up your clothes and hair, secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, many of which increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. Breathing in secondhand smoke can irritate airways and even trigger asthma attacks. The only place to completely avoid the effects of secondhand smoke is in a totally smoke-free environment.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013