Updated 02 October 2018

How secondhand smoke puts even non-smokers at risk of serious lung disease

Serious lung diseases like COPD can be caused by exposure to second hand smoke at home and in the workplace. Here's what you should know.


If you’re a non-smoker, you may think you aren’t affected by tobacco. But the truth is that second-hand smoke inhaled from cigarettes and other tobacco products affects non-smokers and can lead to serious lung diseases.

Irritating gases and/or cigarette smoke may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is not necessarily caused by smoking, and conditions at work have been shown to be a causative factor in 15% of cases.

Cape Town recently recorded the highest prevalence rate of COPD – currently the number three cause of death globally – of 24 countries, representing 47 cities and towns around the world.

Different kinds of second-hand smoke

Mainstream smoke is the smoke that's produced by smokers, and side stream is the smoke that comes from the tip of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. 

Exposure to second-hand smoke is never safe as it's exactly the same smoke inhaled by smokers, containing the same harmful chemicals. There are as many as 7,000 chemicals in second-hand smoke and 70 of these may lead to lung cancer.

Apart from cancer, second-hand smoke is also associated with stroke and heart disease. 

Read: COPD: what is it?

Apart from this, second-hand smoke ups the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and can cause problems like asthma, ear infections and pneumonia in older children.

Other sources of smoke

Third-hand smoke can be problematic too. This refers to the harmful chemicals that are absorbed by upholstery and curtains, and which tend to linger for a long time. 

The smoke from pipes, cigars and cigarettes isn't the only culprit and the biomass fuel used for cooking in poorer countries can also be a problem. Biomass fuel is often used in places where there's insufficient ventilation. It's also linked to COPD.

According to the WHO, gas appliances, candles, fireplaces, incense, candles and mosquito coils in malaria areas may also contribute to the development of lung diseases. Many countries have banned smoking in public places, but this is not enough as there are many other sources of second hand smoke affecting the health of whole populations.

- Mayo Clinic’s official website. [online] Available at: (Accessed on 10 May 2016).
- Boschetto, P. et al. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and occupational exposures. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.[online] Volume 1,2006. Available at: (Accessed on 10 May 2016).
- (2015) Official website of the American Cancer Society.[online] Available at: (Accessed on 10 May 2016).
- Ibid. 
- (2016) Official website of the Centers for Disease Control. [online] Available at: (accessed on 10 May 2016).
- Ibid. 
- Official Magazine of the Society for Science & the Public. [online] Available at: (Accessed on 10 May 2016).

This article was brought to you by Cipla Medpro South Africa (Pty) Limited and its affiliates. 
Find out how Cipla is advancing healthcare for all in South Africa.


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