Second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are known to be cancer causing agents such as arsenic and benzene. Particles in second-hand smoke tend to be smaller than those in smoke drawn directly from cigarettes, meaning they can penetrate deeper into the lungs. Second-hand smoke is classified as a substantial public health hazard and is a controllable and preventable form of indoor air pollution; it is classified as a known, class A human carcinogen (International Agency for Research on Cancer; World Health Organisation). Although overall exposure in the UK population has declined due to smoke-free legislation and reduced smoking prevalence, cars and homes continue to be places of high exposure.

Effect of second-hand smoke on pregnant women and unborn babies

Evidence of the effects of second-hand smoke on babies while in their mother's womb shows that products from the smoke cross the placental barrier and therefore enter the baby's circulation. If the mother is exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy this increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and is an established risk factor for premature birth, low birth weight and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The effects of second-hand smoke on the health of babies and children, and of maternal smoking on the health of the foetus, are substantial. However, it is difficult to distinguish between effect caused by maternal smoking and by second-hand smoke exposure in childhood.

In general, the risks to infants and children are greatest when the mother is the smoker and in households where a number of people smoke. Currently, it is estimated that 20-40% of children in Scotland are exposed to second-hand smoke at home. The only way for women to protect themselves and their baby from second-hand smoke is to have a smoke free home and car. Having people smoke in a different room or with a window open does not eliminate the risk of second-hand smoke for pregnant women.



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