The risks of secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke is highly toxic. More than 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and doesn’t smell.

No matter how careful someone thinks they are about keeping smoke away from you, you and your baby still get the harmful poisons. Opening windows and doors or smoking in another room will not make it safe.

If a smoker in your household quits smoking, the benefits to you and your baby are huge, similar to when you stop yourself.

Second-hand smoke can mean that your baby will be smaller and sicker.  It increases the risk of your baby dying unexpectedly after birth. Your baby is more likely to be born early and have to stay in hospital after birth. Babies whose parents smoke are more likely to be admitted to hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia during the first year of life. 

The smoker may not be aware of how their smoking affects you and your baby. Encourage them to quit.

If you are worried about the amount of secondhand smoke you may be taking in you can ask your midwife for a Carbon Monoxide (CO) test. This measures the amount of Carbon Monoxide that you have in your body.

7 tips for avoiding secondhand smoke

  1. Persuade smokers in your household to quit.
  2. Don’t go to places where you know people will be smoking indoors.
  3. Ask drivers not to smoke in the car or take different transport.
  4. Tell visiting smokers to smoke outside with the door closed behind them, make sure nearby windows are closed.
  5. Keep an umbrella, raincoat and/or wellies by the door so there are no excuses for people not to smoke outside even if it's raining.
  6. Have information and stickers from the NHS Smokefree quit kit around your home.
  7. Ring these free helplines for advice on how to keep you and your baby safe from other people's smoke: Quitline on 0800 00 22 00 or Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044.

More on the effects of smoking


  1.  NHS Choices [accessed 28/04/2015] Secondhand smoke,
  2. Smoking in Pregnancy: Communication with Women Working Group (2015) Shared key messages
  3. NHS Choices [accessed 28/04/2015] Smoking and pregnancy
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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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