Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Is the smell of cigarettes the same as secondhand smoke?

Q. A family friend just started smoking again. He doesn't smoke while my young daughter and I are there, but his house is saturated with the smell. Is this secondhand smoke? Should I be concerned?

A. Secondhand smoke is defined as the combination of sidestream smoke, which comes from the burning end of a cigarette, and mainstream smoke, which is smoke exhaled by the smoker. While the smell of smoke doesn't necessarily correlate with the amount of secondhand smoke in a room, you and your daughter are being exposed to some level of smoke toxins.

There are good reasons to avoid secondhand smoke. It increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory problems, and possibly cancers of the cervix, breast, and bladder. In children, it's been linked to middle ear infections, bronchitis, and asthma. Exposure in the womb is associated with low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.

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