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Risks to your child’s lungs

How can passive smoking affect your child's lungs?

On this page, we explain how passive smoking is harmful to unborn babies and children’s lungs. We also provide information on passive vaping and vaping during and after pregnancy. 

On this page: 

What is passive smoking?

Passive smoking is when you breathe in someone else’s cigarette, pipe, or cigar smoke. Babies and children are more likely to be harmed by passive smoking because their lungs haven’t finished growing. 

One of the best things you can do for your own and your child’s lung health is to make sure they don’t breathe in tobacco smoke. 

How can passive smoking harm my unborn baby?

When someone smokes while pregnant, dangerous chemicals from the cigarette are passed through the bloodstream direct to the baby in the womb. 

Smoking or breathing in second-hand (passive) smoke during pregnancy can cause serious harm to your baby. It can: 

  • slow down the development of your child’s lungs
  • increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight - children born prematurely or with a low birth weight are more likely to develop a lung condition
  • result in your child’s lungs becoming sensitive to air pollution when they’re older. 

What happens when children breathe in tobacco smoke?

Babies and children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to: 

Even if you smoke away from your children, their lungs can still be affected. It takes an average of five hours for the air in a room to be clear of smoke.

Parents who smoke outside the home and away from their children can still bring smoke into the home on their clothes. Breathing in smoke on clothes is also a risk to children’s lungs.

Is it safe to vape while pregnant?

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your unborn child. Some pregnant people may choose vaping (using an e-cigarette) to quit smoking. While vaping is thought to be around 95% less harmful to health than regular cigarettes, more research is needed into the impact of vaping during pregnancy. Because of this, some health care professionals advise pregnant people to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) instead.

However, if vaping is the only way for you to quit smoking, it is much better for both you and your baby to vape than to smoke tobacco during pregnancy.

If you need help to stop smoking, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) using patches, gum or an inhalator is a good option. This is much safer than continuing to smoke.

Is passive vaping bad for my baby or child?

Breathing in the vapour from someone else’s e-cigarette is not as harmful as passive smoking. This is because the vapour does not contain most of the harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke. There is no tar, and the chemicals that are present are at much lower levels.  

However, many people find the vapour irritating and people with lung conditions can be sensitive to it, so you shouldn’t vape around children.

Tips for giving up smoking

Stopping smoking is the best way to protect you and your child’s health in the long term.

  • Be clear about why you want to stop. Use our online tool to remind yourself of your reasons to quit.
  • Tell others that you’re giving up smoking. Making it public can give you the push you need.
  • Make a date and stick to it. Tell yourself you will be a non-smoker after this date.
  • Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. Think ahead and make a plan to help you.
  • Ask your GP about treatments and local groups to help you quit.

Giving up smoking can be very hard. But it will improve your health and protect your child. We have lots of support and information to help you quit.

Next: How can air pollution affect my child's lungs?

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: June 2022. Due for review: June 2025

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.