The Cognitive Deficits Associated with Second-Hand Smoking

Jonathan Ling, Tom Heffernan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS), also known as “passive smoking,” refers to a situation where a non-smoker inhales another person’s smoke either by sidestream or by mainstream exposure to tobacco smoke. Previous research has suggested that not only is prolonged exposure to SHS associated with a range of health-related problems similar to those found in smokers (1, 2) but is also linked to detrimental effects upon cognitive performance in children, adolescents, and adults. For example, children exposed to SHS show reduced vocabulary and reasoning skills when compared with non-exposed children (3) as well as more general cognitive and intellectual deficits (4). More recently, research using serum cotinine as a biomarker of exposure to SHS found that higher levels of serum cotinine were associated with significant reductions in performance in reading, mathematics, and visual and spatial abilities in children and adolescents (5) indicating that higher levels of SHS exposure is associated with poorer cognitive performance. In adults, exposure to SHS in those who had no history of smoking showed significantly reduced performance in processing speed (how quickly one can process information and perform tasks) and executive function (which includes the ability to organize memory, cognitive flexibility, and problem-solving ability) when compared with non-exposed, never smokers (6, 7). In addition, never smokers who lived with smokers for several decades showed a 30% increase in their risk of dementia (8). Recent work has also revealed everyday memory impairments in never smokers with a history of living with smokers for several years; for example, deficits in everyday prospective memory (memory for future actions), such as remembering to carry out everyday activities, keeping appointments with others, or remembering to post a letter on time (7, 9). What is less clear is the mechanism by which SHS might compromise cognitive performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Early online date24 Mar 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Mar 2016


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