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Last Updated: February 27, 2019


Air Quality: Tobacco exposure in utero


Big idea: Tobacco smoke can damage lungs before birth and beyond.

Talking Points:

  • There are more than 7,000 known chemicals in cigarette smoke. When inhaled, they irritate the lungs of a person with asthma and hinder lung function.
  • Secondhand smoke also worsens other respiratory illnesses like bronchitis. It is among the most common indoor sources of polluted air.
  • The effects of exposure to tobacco smoke can start early, affecting a person’s genetic makeup in utero and in early childhood. This exposure can result in the onset of asthma, respiratory infections, and weakened lungs.
  • To be clear, there is no safe amount of tobacco smoke for the human body, either for the smoker or for people exposed to secondhand smoke.

National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet, reviewed December 2017
National Cancer Institute – No Safe Level of Smoking, updated December 2016
Potaczek et al, 2017. Epigenetics and Allergy: From Basic Mechanisms to Clinical Applications.

Categories: Air Quality