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Passive smoking and vaping

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Passive smoke and vapour can damage the health of anyone who breathes it in — especially babies, children and pregnant females.
  • Passive smoke comes from the burning end of the tobacco product and the smoke that the smoker breathes out.
  • Passive vapour comes from heated vape liquid that a person vaping breathes out.
  • To protect yourself and your children, keep your home and car smoke- and vapour-free.

What is passive smoking?

Passive or second-hand smoking and vaping occurs when a non-smoker or non-vaper breathes in second-hand tobacco smoke or vape vapour. This can come from other people's:

  • cigarettes
  • vapes
  • cigars
  • pipes

Passive smoking and vaping can happen when you are in the same room, home, car or public place as someone who is smoking or vaping.

Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. This includes about 70 substances that can cause cancer. Even small amounts of smoke are harmful.

Vapour from vapes can contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals that have many known and unknown health risks.

Passive smoke and vapour can damage the health of anyone who breathes it in. This is especially true for babies, children and pregnant females.

Passive smoking and vaping are never safe.

Where does second-hand smoke and vapour come from?

Passive smoke comes from:

  • the burning ends of cigarettes, cigars or pipes
  • the smoke that the smoker breathes out

Passive vapour comes from the vapour a person breathes out after breathing it in from a vape.

How does passive smoking and vaping affect your health?

Passive smoking can cause or worsen the following conditions and diseases:

  • cancer
  • heart attacks
  • heart disease
  • respiratory infections
  • asthma
  • diabetes

Exposure to second-hand vapour for children may put their health at risk. These risks may include:

  • exposure to nicotine, other harmful chemicals, and metals
  • lung damage
  • respiratory issues, such as shortness of breath and coughing
  • higher rates of teen asthma

Passive smoking and pregnancy, babies and children

If you are pregnant, passive smoking can:

Babies and children exposed to passive smoking may develop illnesses such as:

In babies, passive smoking can contribute to sudden infant death syndrome, possibly because chemicals from the smoke affect the brain and interfere with breathing.

Children of parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves.

What can I do as a parent or carer?

If you smoke or vape, the best thing you can do is to quit smoking and vaping.

You can also:

  • keep your house smoke and vape free
  • keep your car smoke and vape free
  • make sure that your family, friends and other carers don't smoke or vape around your children
  • teach your children to stay away from second-hand smoke and vapour

How can I reduce my exposure to passive smoke and vapour?

The only way to totally protect people from second-hand smoke and vapour is to not allow smoking or vaping in homes and other indoor spaces.

To protect yourself and your children, keep your home smoke- and vapour-free.

Ask your partner, family or friends to smoke or vape outside. It isn't enough for them to go to another room because smoke and vapour may move through your home.

Encourage the smoker or vaper to quit. Even smoke particles on their clothes can harm people.

How does the law protect me from passive smoke and vapour?

To protect people from the harms of smoking and vaping in Australia, it's illegal to smoke or vape in enclosed public places, including:

  • on public transport — trains, planes and buses
  • in office buildings
  • in shopping malls
  • in schools
  • cinemas
  • in airports

In all states and territories, it is illegal to smoke in a car with a minor. A minor is someone under the age of 16, 17 or 18. The age depends on the state or territory you are in.

There may be other places where vaping or smoking is illegal, such as in a car with a minor, depending on the state and territory that you are in. To find out about these laws, visit the relevant link:

What can I do about second-hand smoke and vapour if I smoke or vape?

If you smoke or vape, consider quitting. For help and support, speak with your doctor and call Quitline on 13 7848.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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