Almost everyone knows the negative effects of smoking for smokers. Along with physical symptoms, smokers can become addicted to nicotine, causing withdrawal symptoms and other mental health concerns when a smoker does not have access to a cigarette or nicotine substitute.

Even for those living with smokers, the effects of secondhand smoke (SHS) can cause mental health concerns later in life, according to a new study from the University of New York and Columbia University. The study, which drew from data spanning over a 10-year period, found that people exposed to SHS for a majority of their lives had increased incidents of depression and panic attacks. This information shows how deeply people that live with or are close to smokers are affected.

The Study

The information used in this study was drawn from the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) waves one and two. In wave one, participants were asked if they grew up with someone in their household smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products. In wave two, participants were asked if they currently lived with someone who smoked cigarettes or tobacco. Researchers then tracked panic attacks, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) symptoms, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) symptoms in patients who had been exposed to either or both situations.

Researchers found that people who had been exposed to SHS both as a child and as an adult were at greater risk of developing MDD and panic attacks. People who had been exposed to SHS either as an adult or as a child did not experience this association as strongly as other groups.

What it Means for People Living with Smokers

SHS has known physical side effects in all stages of life. They include:

  • Respiratory infections and asthma attacks
  • Ear infections
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease

This new information shows that SHS also has mental side effects, which can be just as harmful as the physical effects. When considering adding a child to your household, it's important to quit smoking. For those who are exposed to SHS at a young age, this study emphasizes the need to escape that environment for physical and mental health reasons.


Date of original publication:
Updated on: January 29, 2018


Farah Taha, Renee D. Goodwin. Secondhand smoke exposure across the life course and the risk of adult-onset depression and anxiety disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, October 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.07.014.