Q. As part of a workplace stop-smoking class I’m taking, the instructor said secondhand smoke is as bad for pets as it is for people. Is this true?

A. If you’ve been looking for one more reason to stop smoking, you may have found it. Your instructor is correct: Secondhand smoke puts both people and pets at risk. Health authorities believe secondhand smoke kills thousands of nonsmokers every year, and though the number of pets affected isn’t clear, the risk is.

  • In cats, exposure to cigarette smoke produces higher than normal rates of mouth cancer and lymphoma.
  • In dogs, being around secondhand smoke increases the odds of nasal cancer.
  • In birds, lung cancer shows up more frequently with exposure to smoking in the home.
A study by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University looked at the link between secondhand smoke and cancer in cats and found not only a strong link, but an even higher risk for pets exposed for five years or longer. For dogs, a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University noted the higher risk of nasal tumors in dogs with longer muzzles and of lung cancer in dogs with shorter muzzles. The carcinogens were stopped in the noses of some dogs but went through to the lungs in others. Not a good situation in either case.

Pet birds? Lung cancer? Do the words “canary in a coal mine” give you any ideas? They should. As I’ve often noted, I am not here to give advice on human health concerns, but I will tell you that if you can stop for your pets, I’d certainly encourage it. And you’ll benefit as well!