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Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking.

Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic (poisonous) or carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Although secondhand smoke itself vanishes from sight after a brief period of time, it actually lingers in the air hours after the tobacco has been extinguished. Further, the chemicals in secondhand smoke are absorbed into clothing fabric, drapes, furniture upholstery, and carpeting — leaving dangerous chemicals in the environment long after the smoke vanishes from sight.

Traditional and/or ritual use of tobacco is an important cultural component in many Native American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. For many, tobacco is sacred. It is burned for peace or prayer. Smoking traditional tobacco and manufactured tobacco both may result in health problems — heart attack, stroke and lung disease — in the smoker and his or her children, however, manufactured tobacco is generally treated with more chemicals and thus may be more toxic as a result. Nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes, is found in both traditional and manufactured tobacco. Traditional and ritual tobacco use is different from the habitual abuse developed by addicted smokers.

EPA’s Smoke Free Homes and Cars Program aims to reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke by asking parents and other caregivers to take a pledge not to smoke inside the home or car. The Website has easy to understand information about the health effects of secondhand smoke and materials that can be ordered or downloaded at no cost, including a brochure “Secondhand Tobacco Smoke and the Health of Your Family” is also readily available on the Website.

Spotlight: Northern Plains Tobacco Prevention Project

The Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (AATCHB) has developed the Northern Plains Tobacco Prevention Project designed to help tribes learn about how commercial (non-ceremonial) tobacco use is affecting American Indians residing in the Aberdeen area (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa). Their information campaign includes messages about the importance of reducing commercial addictive smoking in homes and vehicles if children are present, due to the dangerous health effects of secondhand smoke. The Northern Plains Tobacco Prevention Project exiting EPA Website includes a community toolkit exiting EPA with brochures, public service announcements and posters about smoke-free homes.


  • The National Native Commercial Tobacco Abuse Prevention Network exiting EPA is committed to preserving the sacred status of traditional tobacco and its ceremonial / sacred uses. The national network is a diverse community of American Indian/Alaska Natives leading commercial tobacco abuse prevention efforts throughout Indian Country. The KeepItSacred.org Website is a one-stop connection to resources to assist you develop commercial tobacco abuse prevention efforts.
  • The American Lung Association (ALA) exiting EPA offers a valuable Smoking and American Indians/Alaska Natives Fact Sheet with statistics and information about the health-related risks of smoking.

Tribal Materials

The Northern Plains Tobacco Prevention Project exiting EPA (see also the Spotlight above) includes a Smoke-free Homes Campaign Community Toolkit exiting EPA with brochures, public service announcements, and posters about smoke-free homes.

EPA Materials

You can order EPA publications free of charge from EPA's National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), visit their Website at www.epa.gov/nscep, or call 1-800-490-9198.

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Have you planned a successful and sustainable community program? If so, we would like to know. Please send us an e-mail at iaqtribal@epa.gov describing the program, and that program could be highlighted here. We will follow up with the program directly to gather more information and permission to use their story.

Asthma Triggers Carbon Monoxide Community Programs Directory of Tribal Champions Innovative Tribal Programs Learn about IAQ Working with the Media Moisture/Mold Other Pollutants Radon Programs in Schools Secondhand Smoke Wood Smoke Indoor Air Quality

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