Secondhand Smoke and Cancer

“But for the grace of God, it could have been me.”

During my Secondary School years (11 – 16)  you would always find groups of children hiding in the bike sheds or behind the gym smoking.  Fortunately for me, I was never involved in any of those groups.  Indeed I absolutely dreaded those words coming out of the class teacher mouth…   ‘there’s the bell – get your coats and go outside in the fresh air for play time.’ while they retreated to the warmth and safety of their staff room.  Visions of the Carry on Teacher come readily to mind.

I grew up in a home where both parents smoked and lived in a smog filled environment for all of my childhood.

And I hated it.  I hated the smell. It clung to my hair, my clothes, my skin.  Of my siblings – two started smoking whilst at school and two of us chose NOT to smoke.  I remember the scene at home, before my fathers funeral, my brother went outside to smoke, and my non-smoking sister clinging to him, sobbing her heart out, saying to him,

“No, no, please don’t smoke.  It killed dad. I will lose you too.”

My brother chooses to smoke.

In 1994, many years after dad had passed, we woke up the shocking news that Roy Castle, had died of lung cancer.  Yet he never smoked.

This was the first time that I had come across the term ‘passive-smoking’.

According to the National Cancer Institute the definition of ‘secondhand smoke’ is:

Secondhand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke, involuntary smoke, and passive smoke) is the combination of “sidestream” smoke (the smoke given off by a burning tobacco product) and “mainstream” smoke (the smoke exhaled by a smoker)..


Second-hand smoke is made up of sidestream smoke and exhaled mainstream smoke, mixed with the surrounding air.

Sidestream smoke is about 4 times more toxic than mainstream smoke, although people inhale it in a more diluted form. This is because sidestream smoke contains much higher levels of many of the poisons and cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes. Read more at Cancer Research.)

Does secondhand smoke contain harmful chemicals?

Over 7,000 chemicals have been identified in secondhand smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, and include  hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia.

At least 69 of the toxic chemicals in secondhand tobacco smoke cause cancer  and include the following:

Other toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke are suspected to cause cancer, include


What is being done to protect people like me who choose NOT to smoke?

Let us be clear, there are no safe levels of exposure to secondhand smoke. 

The only way to fully protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke is to completely eliminate smoking in indoor spaces and this includes my home.

Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot completely eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke

In the USA I am aware that state and local governments have passed laws prohibiting smoking in public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, airports, bus terminals, parks, and beaches, as well as private workplaces, including restaurants and bars. In addition, some states have passed laws regulating smoking in multi unit housing and cars. More than half of the states have enacted statewide bans on workplace smoking.

Internationally, a growing number of nations, including France, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Uruguay, require all workplaces, including bars and restaurants, to be smoke free.

Today, the fashion is changing – smoking is no longer considered ‘cool’ or fashionable, many of the supermarkets operate what can only be described as ‘under the counter’ methods for selling tobacco products.  Considering just how insidiously addictive tobacco is to its user, if it was a new product on the market, it would be a Class A substance.

Now, we face a new problem, how on earth are we going to clean up the billions of people who are addicted to the demon ‘smoke’?


I choose NOT to smoke


Where To Get Help When You Decide To Quit Smoking





CAPT Amanda Barrow, STARFLEET International
Team Leader, Women’s Health Issues





Research References:

National Cancer Research: Second Hand Smoke and Cancer

Smoke Away Blog:  227 famous people who died because they smoked…

Breathing Happy:  The late, great British entertainer Roy Castle (1932-1994) died of smoking-related disease, despite being a non-smoker.


About the Author

Long time blogger on religion, long time mother, wife and daughter.  Still working her way through the University of Life.

* The views in this article are expressly those of the author..