My Secondhand Smoke “Aha” Moment

By Alison Freeman

Did you know that more than half of young children are exposed to secondhand smoke and most of this exposure occurs at home? Now that the weather is warming up, this is a good time to talk with loved ones who smoke about the benefits of taking smoking outside.

My secondhand smoke “aha” moment came a number of years ago at a colleague’s going away party. I picked up my son at his pre-school near work, cautiously entered the restaurant (sniffing for smoke along the way), then dashed my son to the private back room where the event was being held. Relieved there was a door and the air smelled free of smoke, (and giving no thought to ventilation), I foolishly concluded that it was safe for my son to stay. During our drive home, I kissed my son’s head and ruffled his hair and quickly discovered he reeked of cigarette smoke.

There’s good reason for my instinctive reaction I experienced and that I still so clearly recall. There is no risk-free exposure, no safe level of secondhand smoke, and no safe tobacco product, either for the smoker or the nonsmoker exposed. Cigarettes are a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and breathing in even a little smoke can be dangerous, resulting in temporary and sometimes permanent health consequences. We know secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.

Choose to smoke outside, until you can quit, and share that message with others you care about or who care for your kids in their homes or cars.

To learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, visit EPA’s website.

To get help with quitting, visit or contact the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

Lastly, the Surgeon General and CDC websites host a number of helpful consumer publications, posters, and tips.

About the author: Alison Freeman is the secondhand smoke policy specialist in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, which addresses indoor air topics, including smoke-free homes, asthma, mold, radon, Indoor airPLUS and schools.

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