Exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy

Similar to smoking during pregnancy, being exposed to second-hand smoke while pregnant results in serious risks for both the woman and the fetus. Read more about second-hand smoke...

Facts

Nicotine, carcinogens and toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke are inhaled when people breathe in second-hand smoke.1

A pregnant woman's exposure to second-hand smoke affects many aspects of fetal development, from conception to birth. It also increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby and premature delivery.2 There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.2

Infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy and those exposed to second-hand smoke after birth are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome.2,3

Research has shown that, in 2002, exposure to second-hand smoke alone caused 92 deaths in infants under the age of one. More than 60% of these deaths were due to low birth weight and premature delivery.4

This health warning message addresses smoking and second-hand smoke during pregnancy for cigarettes and little cigars:

Pregnant woman pushing away a hand holding a cigarette

What is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand smoke, also called passive, involuntary or environmental tobacco smoke, is the combination of smoke coming directly from a burning tobacco product and the smoke exhaled by a smoker.

Many of the chemicals in tobacco smoke5,6 are present in SHS.

Cotinine, a chemical produced when nicotine degrades in the body, can be detected in body fluids and is a good indicator of exposure to second-hand smoke.2 A recent Canadian study found that 14% of non-smokers aged 6 to 79 had measurable amounts of cotinine in their urine - indicating that they had been exposed to second-hand smoke in the previous few days.7

How does second-hand smoke increase the risk of health problems?

Many chemicals in second-hand smoke can be passed on from the pregnant woman to the fetus through the placenta.2,8

Nicotine in the blood of a pregnant woman exposed to second-hand smoke can decrease the blood flow to the unborn baby. This can affect the unborn baby's heart, lungs, digestive system and central nervous system. Carbon monoxide in smoke can affect the baby's growth and may lead to low birth weight.9

How can I reduce the risk to my baby from second-hand smoke?

Cleaning or filtering the air, increased ventilation or segregated areas (non-smoking sections) cannot completely eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke nor the health risks associated with this exposure.2 The only solution to protect non-smokers is to eliminate smoking in all enclosed spaces such as restaurants, homes, and automobiles.

For women who smoke, quitting smoking before conception or early in pregnancy will produce the greatest benefits to the fetus and expectant mother. However, quitting at any point during pregnancy also provides health benefits.10

Need help to quit? Call the pan-Canadian quitline toll-free at 1-866-366-3667.

References

1. International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans: Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking. Vol. 83. Lyon (France): International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2004.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking an Health; 2006. Available from:  http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/index.html.

3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2004. Ch.5, P.600. Available from:  http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/smokingconsequences/index.html.

4. Rehm J, Baliunas D, Brochu S, Fischer B, Gnam W, Patra J, et al. The costs of substance abuse in Canada 2002. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2006.

5. Rodgman, A., Perfetti, T.A. The chemical components of tobacco and tobacco smoke. (2009). CRC press, Florida, USA. ISBN 978-1-4200-7883-1.

6. Hecht SS. Research Opportunities Related to Establishing Standards for Tobacco Products Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

7. Health Canada. Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada (Cat. H128-1/10-601E). Ottawa, Canada: Health Canada, 2010.

8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking-Nicotine Addiction: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 1988. Ch.1, P.33. Available from:  http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/tobaccosmoke/report/executivesummary.pdf

9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2010. Ch.8, P.584. Available from:  http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/tobaccosmoke/report/chapter8.pdf

10. Fiore MC, Jaen CR, Baker TB. Clinical practice guideline: treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 update. US Department of Health and Human Services 2008;1-275. Available from:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=hsahcpr&part=A28163 (accessed August 12, 2010).

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