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How Secondhand And Thirdhand Smoke Hurts Our Kids The Most

We’ve all been warned over the years about the negative health effects of breathing in secondhand smoke. In fact, the state of Alaska took it so seriously that they passed a law (SB 63) back in October 2018 to ban smoking at workplaces.  Now employees and customers will not be subjected to cigarette smoke at worksites.

Yes indeed, we’ve come a long way from the days of having a “smoking section” in airplanes.  However, we know that many people are still exposed to secondhand and thirdhand smoke at home, in cars, or in other locations outside of work.

Woman's hand holding a burnt cigarette in one hand in the foreground with another woman in the background covering her nose and mouth.

What is secondhand and thirdhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke refers to “smoke that comes from the burning of a tobacco product and smoke that is exhaled by smokers.”1 If you’ve ever walked past someone smoking on the street, you’ve engaged in “passive smoking” and were exposed to secondhand smoke.

Thirdhand smoke takes it one step further. Even if no one is smoking anywhere near us, we can be exposed to thirdhand smoke just by touching or breathing in residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. Have you ever noticed that a friend who smokes carries around the smell of smoke on their clothing? That’s a prime example of thirdhand smoke.

Cigarette smoke, and even the aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes like JUUL and other vape devices, are toxic to those around us. Both contain nicotine, as well as ultrafine particles and chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer and negatively impact health.2 Recent studies have shown that the aerosol emitted from vape devices contain a slew of chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive problems.3 Ultrafine particles found in secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes can make asthma symptoms worse, and they can increase someone’s risk for stroke by constricting blood vessels.2

What isn’t spoken much about is how this harms our kids more than anyone else.

Young, developing, lungs can be severely impacted by being around cigarette smoke or e-cigarette aerosol. 4

Kids who are exposed to secondhand or thirdhand smoke are at increased risk for ear infections, tooth decay, and respiratory infections.5 Asthma attacks can be more frequent and more severe for children who are exposed to cigarette smoke.5

The health impacts of breathing in secondhand cigarette smoke can be lifelong as well. If kids grow up in a home where a family member smokes, they may experience health problems later in life, including lung cancer, heart disease, and cataracts, and their lungs may never grow to their full potential.5 Nicotine exposure from passive smoking or vaping can also harm brain development.4

Please think twice about smoking or vaping around your kids or in areas where they spend time, like the car or house.

If you are looking for supporting to quit, call the Alaska Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669.


  1. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/secondhand-smoke
  2. https://no-smoke.org/electronic-smoking-devices-secondhand-aerosol/
  3. https://tobaccofreeca.com/e-cigarettes/vaping-is-it-harmful-to-my-health/
  4. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/tobacco/Pages/Facts-For-Parents-About-E-Cigarettes-Electronic-Nicotine-Delivery-Systems.aspx
  5. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/tobacco/Pages/Dangers-of-Secondhand-Smoke.aspx

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.