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Smoking in the House - How Bad is It, Really?


Every year 440,000 people die in the US from tobacco use and smoke-related diseases, which is approximately 20% of all deaths in the United States. Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide and illegal drugs combined.


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While not an obvious source of radiation exposure, cigarette smokers inhale radioactive material that, over time, contribute a large radiation dose to the lungs. Worse, smokers are not the only ones affected by the radiation in cigarettes. Second-hand can be just as harmful to nearby non-smokers.

Naturally-occurring radioactive minerals accumulate on the sticky surfaces of tobacco leaves as the plant grows, and these minerals remain on the leaves throughout the manufacturing process. Additionally, the use of the phosphate fertilizer Apatite – which contains radium, lead-210 and polonium-210 – also increases the amount of radiation in tobacco plants.

The radium that accumulates on the tobacco leaves predominantly emits alpha and gamma radiation. The lead-210 and polonium-210 particles lodge in the smoker’s lungs, where they accumulate for decades (lead-210 has a half-life of 22.3 years). The tar from tobacco builds up on the bronchioles and traps even more of these particles. Over time, these particles can damage the lungs and lead to lung cancer.

Who is protecting you


  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): EPA’s Indoor Environments program has a voluntary smoke-free home campaign to increase awareness of secondhand smoke and the health risks of smoking indoors.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): The Office of the Surgeon General is responsible for warning labels on cigarettes and offers programs to help people stop smoking.

  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides information on tobacco use, promotes disease prevention and provides educational tools for communities to take action to protect nonsmokers from second-hand tobacco smoke in public places.

What you can do to protect yourself

To reduce the adverse effects of radiation in tobacco products:


  • Do not chew tobacco or smoke (especially cigarettes without filters)

  • Minimize exposure to second-hand smoke


EPA Indoor Environments Smoke Free Home
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: This bilingual site provides information on second-hand smoke and creating a smoke-free environment, as well as access to bilingual materials on these topics.

Cigarette Smoking
American Cancer Society: This site provides information on what you need to know about how tobacco kills and how to get the help you need to quit.

Tobacco Information and Prevention Sources (TIPS)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: This site provides access to useful information and documents on smoking and prevention.



Smoking in the House - How Bad is It, Really?:  Created on May 1st, 2006.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014


About EPA

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. At laboratories located throughout the nation, the agency works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand and solve current and future environmental problems.