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Environmental Assessment

Secondhand Smoke

The Issue
Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke exhaled by smokers and the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke contains more that 4,000 substances, several of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals.

EPA has concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer. EPA estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of heart disease.

Children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke because they are still developing physically and have higher breathing rates than adults. Infants and children exposed to high doses of secondhand smoke, such as those whose mothers smoke, run the greatest risk of harm from secondhand smoke. EPA estimates that up to 1 million asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke. Children's exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and ear infections.

EPA Action
In 1992 EPA published its conclusion that secondhand smoke represents a serious and substantial public health risk in The Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders. EPA's conclusion that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer was based on a thorough review of all of the studies in the available literature and is supported by earlier studies by the National Research Council (NRC) and the U.S. Surgeon General who independently assessed the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

EPA's report also concludes that infants and young children are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke. EPA estimates that up to 1 million asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition, children's exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and ear infections.

While EPA does not have the regulatory authority to control secondhand smoke, EPA's report is expected to be of value to health professionals and policymakers in taking appropriate steps to minimize peoples' exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor environments. In cooperation with other government agencies, EPA will continue its education and outreach program to inform the public and policy makers on what to do to reduce the health risks of secondhand smoke and other indoor air pollutants.

Related Links History
Dec 1992 Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders, finalized document released
Nov 1992 EPA's Science Advisory Board releases its report on the Second External Review Draft and endorses the major conclusions of the report, including its unanimous endorsement of the classification of secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen.
Jul 1992 Science Advisory Board meets to review second External Review Draft
May 1992 Second External Review draft released (EPA/600/6-90/006B)
Apr 1991 Science Advisory Board releases its report of the First External Review Draft
Dec 1990 Science Advisory Board meets to review First External Review Draft
May 1990 External Review Draft released (EPA/600/6-90/006A)


Best Resources

U.S. EPA. Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking (Also Known as Exposure to Secondhand Smoke or Environmental Tobacco Smoke ETS). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, Washington, DC, EPA/600/6-90/006F, 1992.

Jinot, J. AND S. Bayard. Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: U.S. EPA's Weight-of-Evidence Analysis. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., EPA/600/J-95/367.

Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., EPA/600/6-90/006B (NTIS PB92182344).


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