Adults know that smoking harms others. Or do they really?

Posted in: Public understanding


Children are still exposed to second-hand smoke in the home even though there is evidence that people know that it's harmful. However there’s little evidence to show that people know about the specific illnesses that second-hand smoke can cause.

We examined levels of and trends in knowledge of second-hand smoke related illnesses using the Omnibus Survey from 1996-2008 and we explored whether knowledge predicted smoke-free homes.

We found that when it comes to knowledge of specific illnesses caused by second-hand smoke, people do not know as much as we think they do. Amongst the general population in England, which includes both smokers and non-smokers, only 55 per cent knew that exposure to second-hand smoke can cause cot death in infants and only a third knew that it is causally linked with ear infections in children. Furthermore, a quarter were unaware that second-hand smoke exposure can cause heart attacks in non-smoking adults. Among smokers, these figures were even lower.

Smokers with good knowledge of the illnesses that can be caused by second-hand smoke were much more likely to make their homes smoke-free and were also more likely not to smoke when in the same room as a child.

We found that knowledge increased the most between 2003 and 2006; a period when mass media campaigns highlighting the toxicity of second-hand smoke were being aired on television.

In conclusion:

  • People’s knowledge of certain illnesses is poor.
  • People’s knowledge increased the most when targeted mass-media campaigns were aired.
  • Knowledge is positively associated with both smoke-free homes and refraining from smoking in a room with a child.

Our research suggests there is a valid case for reinstating mass-media campaigns as part of efforts to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke.

The published paper can be accessed here:

Posted in: Public understanding