REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE

Secondhand Smoke

Working in an area where you regularly breathe secondhand smoke during pregnancy can increase your chances of having a baby with low birthweight. Here, you can learn more about secondhand smoke and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What is secondhand smoke?

  • Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from either a burning cigarette or cigar, or from someone breathing out smoke when they are smoking.
  • It contains chemicals that can make you sick, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have caused cancer and birth defects in animals.

Why should I be concerned about exposure?

  • One in 10 American workers say they regularly breathe in secondhand smoke while working.
  • We know that regular exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung problems in adults. It can also cause low birthweight in a baby if the mother regularly breathes in secondhand smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke can stay on your clothes, which can expose your baby during breastfeeding if your baby touches your clothes.

Who is exposed to secondhand smoke?

  • The most common jobs where pregnant women are exposed to secondhand smoke include restaurant and bar workers, casino workers, and hotel workers.
  • Outdoor workplaces and working in a private home are usually not covered by smoke-free laws.
  • Many states, cities, and workplaces do not allow smoking in indoor workplaces.

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most cases of low birthweight. If you regularly breathe in secondhand smoke and have a baby with a low birthweight, we often can’t tell if it was caused by secondhand smoke or if it was caused by something else.
  • We don’t know what levels of secondhand smoke are safe. Try to reduce or eliminate your exposure as much as possible.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate my exposure?

  • It can be hard to avoid breathing in secondhand smoke in your job. The best solution is for your employer, city, or state to create a policy or law that does not allow smoking in the workplace. Talk to your employer, your employee representative, or your mayor or Congressperson about creating smoke-free workplaces.
  • Secondhand smoke can stay on your clothes. If you are exposed to secondhand smoke and you are breastfeeding your infant, change your clothes before breastfeeding.

Where can I get more information?

Page last reviewed: April 20, 2017