Welcome to the teachers section of "smoke’s no joke". We aim to arm you with all the information you need to tackle smoking issues in school.

Second-hand Smoke kills

Second-hand smoke

Even if you don't smoke, your health can still be seriously affected by smoking, particularly if you live with other people who do smoke.

Public awareness of the dangers of being exposed to second-hand smoke has become far more widely acknowledged since 2007 when it became illegal to smoke in the workplace, in vehicles used for work and in most enclosed public spaces. However this legislation does not restrict a person's right to smoke in his or her own home, or in their own vehicle.

Breathing other people's smoke is known as passive smoking or second-hand smoking and could account for as many as 2,700 deaths each year in people aged between 20 and 63 and as many as 8,000 deaths in people aged 63+. The British Medical Journal quotes research from 2005 attributing as many as 10,000 deaths each year to passive smoking in the UK.

The immediate impact of second-hand smoke includes eye-irritation, headache, nausea, dizziness and coughing. Even breathing in second-hand smoke for a short time has a measurable effect on the heart.

The chances of a non-smoker developing heart disease and lung cancer are increased by around 25% if they are exposed to second-hand smoke in the home.

Many smokers want to smoke 'responsibly' and believe that they take adequate precautions to reduce the impact of their smoke on family members. In reality, there is very little smokers can do to reduce the health impacts of smoking at home. Opening a window or only smoking in one particular room makes little difference. Research shows that smoke can linger for up to three hours even in a well-ventilated room because toxins from smoke are easily absorbed into furnishings, carpets and walls and are gradually released back into the atmosphere and breathed in. This puts babies and young children especially at risk as they not only breathe this toxic air, but also have a tendency to put contaminated items into their mouths including their toys.

Children at risk

The health of children who live in homes where someone smokes is particularly at risk.

In households where both parents smoke, young children have a 72% increased risk of respiratory illness. Studies suggest that during the course of a year, children could receive the nicotine equivalent of having smoked up to 150 cigarettes themselves.

Second hand smoke

The incidences of bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, ear infection, cardiovascular problems and even behavioural issues have all been linked to parental smoking.

Second-hand smoke is an established trigger for the onset of asthma in children. Children whose parents smoke are also more likely to develop cancer in later life.

Babies at risk

Non-smoking women who are exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy have a higher risk of miscarriage and are more likely to give birth to babies who are underdeveloped in many respects, low birth weight being just one of the factors involved.

Parental smoking is also one of the risk factors associated with sudden infant death syndrome (cot death). According to the Royal College of Physicians, exposure to second-hand smoke could be the principal cause of 1 in 5 cot deaths in the UK.

Smoke's No Joke debate

For more information please refer to the 'Guide to running a classroom debate'
Classroom debate resources

Smoking in cars – is it time to 'park' personal freedom?

Debate motion:

'This house would ban smoking in all vehicles carrying children.'


  • Within an enclosed car (even with an open window) the concentration of smoke is up to 60 times more intense than a smoke-free environment and 25 times more concentrated than a smoker's home.
  • Australia, Canada, Kuwait and the USA all have legislation in place on this issue.

Proposing arguments

  • Children have no control over the smoking habits of other adults in the vehicle in which they are travelling but a child's parents/guardians do have a duty to prevent children in their care from being harmed. This 'duty of care' responsibility is supported in many different ways by a wide range of existing government legislation. Exposing children to the concentrated effects of second-hand smoking whilst in a vehicle should also be legislated against to support 'duty of care' responsibilities.
  • A YouGov poll 2009 found that most adults support a complete ban on smoking in cars that are carrying child passengers.
  • By applying this ban, parents and carers who smoke would become better educated about the harms second-hand smoke can inflict on their children, in vehicles, and in the home. Bringing this issue to public attention in this way would have a 'self-policing' effect and provide further motivation to 'quit'.

Opposing arguments

  • I'm legally licensed to drive a vehicle. My vehicle is taxed to travel on UK roads and I'm insured to drive it. What I do when I'm in my vehicle with my own children is my choice.
  • After more than 30 years of debate on the relative health risks attributed to smoking, it has not been regarded as a serious enough issue to raise earlier. There is no legislation in the UK on smoking in cars other than works vehicles. I smoke legally. If smoking is so terrible, why hasn't the government banned it outright?
  • If parents/carers can't smoke in cars when children are with them, they will simply smoke more at home when their children are with them. This motion will not end the harm inflicted on children from exposure to second-hand smoke, it will just move it to a different location/situation.

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