Cigarettes in ashtray

Cigarette smoke

53% of people with asthma tell us that tobacco smoke affects their asthma.

Health advice > Asthma triggers

Cigarette smoke triggers asthma symptoms

Whether you’re smoking yourself, or breathing in someone else’s smoke, you’re at risk of asthma symptoms and an asthma attack.

And if you smoke or you’re around cigarette smoke a lot you’ll have more symptoms and need more medicines to keep on top of your asthma.

In the long term, if you continue to smoke or be exposed to cigarette smoke, and your asthma is harder to manage, it could cause permanent damage to your lungs.

If you smoke, find out how quitting can make a real difference to asthma symptoms.

Babies and small children are more at risk from cigarette smoke

Don’t smoke around your baby or child. Babies and small children take more smoke into their lungs than adults.

And because they're still growing, and their immune system isn't fully developed yet, they're at greater risk from the toxins given out in the smoke.

They’ll be more likely to have chest infections and wheezing and coughing. And could be more at risk of an asthma attack. They’ll also be more likely to go on to develop asthma as they get older.

Cigarette smoke is a risk factor for unborn babies too, so avoid smoking or being around cigarette smoke if you are pregnant.

It's not just cigarettes that cause a problem

The smoke from cigars, pipes, hand-rolled cigarettes, and shisha can trigger symptoms too.

For example, shisha pipes (also known as hookah) have all the same risks as tobacco smoke and are linked to the same diseases. The same amount of smoke can be inhaled during a typical hour-long shisha session as from more than a hundred tobacco cigarettes.

Keep your home smoke free

Tobacco smoke can stay in the room for up to two and a half hours. It sticks to clothes and soft furnishings. Every time you smoke another cigarette you top up the pollutants already in the room.

Smoking in only one room, or opening doors and windows won’t help enough to make a difference.

If you need to ask people to smoke outside, make sure they’re well away from the door, so smoke doesn't get blown back indoors.

Even if people do go outside to smoke, they'll bring smoke particles back in on their clothes. So ideally, you’d have no smoking anywhere in or around your home.

Don’t smoke in the car

Cigarette smoke in a car is high risk because it’s a small, enclosed space. Even opening a window won't make enough of a difference. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke in cars.

That’s why in England, Wales and Scotland it’s illegal to smoke in a car, or any vehicle, with anyone under 18 in it.

What about the vape from e-cigarettes?

The vape from e-cigarettes is considered less harmful than tobacco smoke both for someone vaping, and someone breathing in the vape. It has lower levels of toxins and is less polluting in the home.

But in our Annual Asthma Survey 14% of people with asthma told us that vaping, or being exposed to second-hand vape, triggered their asthma symptoms.

Until there is more evidence on the short- and long-term effects of vaping, and breathing in vape when you have asthma, consider avoiding vaping at home, in your car, or around your children.

You can read more about using e-cigarettes as a stop smoking treatment here. 

Other smoke triggers

Find advice on other kinds of smoke that can trigger asthma symptoms, such as woodburning stoves, open fires and fireworks.


Last updated March 2020

Next review due March 2023

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