Passive smoking and children

Passive smoking and children


A report of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians, published March 2010

Supported by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and with funding from Cancer Research UK

'Protecting children is a health priority. Adult smoking behaviour must radically change to achieve that. This report identifies the reasons why and what should be done to achieve it' (Foreword by Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer)

Passive smoking is a major hazard to the health of millions of children who live with smokers. Although legislation in the UK has now prohibited smoking in enclosed public places and in workplaces, the vast majority of death and illness is caused by passive smoking in the home, rather than outside it.

As well as summarising data from hundreds of existing studies, this report sets out new research that quantifies just how damaging passive smoking in the home is to children, and the harm done to the fetus by maternal smoking. It also assesses the likelihood of adult smokers increasing the risk that their children will themselves become smokers.

The report estimates, for example, that over 20,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infection, 120,000 cases of middle ear disease, and at least 22,000 new cases of wheeze and asthma are all caused by passive smoking in children each year in the UK; and that around 23,000 young people take up smoking before the age of 16 as a result of exposure to smoking by others in their household.

The financial costs of the disease burden caused by passive smoking, the level of public support for further legislation, the ethical issues involved, and the policy responses that are needed to minimise exposure in the future, are all set out clearly in this seminal document. It should be read by health professionals in all areas, but particularly those working with children, in obstetrics and in public health, and by politicians, health policy-makers, and tobacco control charities, as well as members of the public interested in creating a healthier, smoke-free environment for all children.

The report is available to purchase or download as a pdf.


  • Smoke-free legislation in the UK
  • Passive smoking in UK children
  • Effects of maternal active and passive smoking on fetal and reproductive health
  • Health effects of passive smoking in children
  • How much disease in children is caused by passive smoking?
  • Effect of parent and sibling smoking on smoking uptake
  • The cost of passive smoking in children
  • Public opinion on smoke-free policy
  • Ethics: children and smoking
  • Strategies to reduce passive smoking in children
  • Key conclusions and recommendations

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Passive smoking and children