Second-hand smoke can be pretty unpleasant. It can also be linked to diseases and injury, especially after prolonged exposure. The American Lung Association estimates that about 3,000 lung cancer deaths and between 20,000 and 70,000 heart disease deaths each year can be attributed to the effects of secondhand smoke. But what counts as second-hand smoke, and what options are available if you’ve suffered injury?

What is the Difference Between Mainstream and Sidestream Smoke?

Second-hand smoke is also referred to as environmental tobacco smoke, and is a mixture of two forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco: mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke.

Mainstream smoke is the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker, while sidestream smoke refers to the smoke that drifts from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar. Sidestream smoke has high concentrations of carcinogens and is considered more toxic than mainstream smoke.

Exposure to second-hand smoke may also be called “involuntary smoking” or “passive smoking.” Second-hand smoke has the same harmful level of chemicals that are inhaled by smokers, and there is no “safe” level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

What are the Risks of Secondhand Smoke?

Second-hand smoke has been linked to increased risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke in non-smokers. Studies also show that prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke can also result in people getting sick more often, suffering from more lung or ear infections, and suffering from asthma (triggering asthma attacks or making symptoms worse). The potential illnesses and injury related to secondhand smoke can be quite serious.

What Options Do I Have If I Have Been Exposed to Secondhand Smoke?

If you suspect that you’ve been injured due to exposure to secondhand smoke, you may have legal recourse. While legal cases regarding exposure to second-hand smoke may have been considered doomed thirty years ago, there has been a significant change in public opinion and in the law to make these cases more successful. You may want to consider talking to an attorney to see if any of these options work for your situation.

Can I File a Suit Against Tobacco Companies?

One option to consider is filing a lawsuit against tobacco companies for damages related to your injuries. This may be a difficult option to pursue, however. It is difficult to prove that illness is related to exposure to smoke if you are a smoker--it is even more difficult to prove the same link if you are a non-smoker.

Does Secondhand Smoke Create a Dangerous Workplace Environment?

If your exposure to second-hand smoke occurred in the workplace, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim. Remember that in workers’ compensation claims, you must show that your injury occurred as a result of something that occurred in the workplace.

You may also be able to sue your employer for exposing you to a dangerous work environment. Keep in mind that you will have to present evidence of the dangerous work environment and show the link between your exposure to the second-hand smoke and your illness.

Can I File a Class-Action Lawsuit for Secondhand Smoke?

A class-action lawsuit may be a possible route, especially if there are numerous plaintiffs who all complain of the same injury or the same core issue.

Filing a Lawsuit Against Homeowner Association, Landlord, or Neighbors for Secondhand Smoke

Sometimes, you may encounter second-hand smoke in your own home, even if you are a non-smoker. If you live in a condominium or apartment building, you may have smoking neighbors close to you, and second-hand smoke may seep into your home from neighboring units.

Since personal dwellings (even apartments) are not considered public spaces, they are not subject to the same rules and regulations that govern smoking in public places. Depending on where you live, there may be laws or local ordinances that prohibit smoking in common areas of multi-family housing.

You may want to try discussing the matter directly with your neighbor or your landlord, and try to resolve the situation amicably first. If you do decide to bring a lawsuit against your homeowner association, landlord, or smoking neighbors, remember that you must be able to show that you have been injured, and that the smoke is the cause of your injury. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you discuss your circumstances and advise you on the best course of action.

How to Prepare for a Secondhand Smoke Lawsuit

If you are experiencing symptoms that may be related to second-hand smoke, you may want to consult a physician. The relationship between your symptoms and the smoke can be difficult to prove in court, and the doctor’s opinion may prove helpful to your cause.

See if the doctor is willing to write a letter indicating that the exposure to secondhand smoke (rather than other environmental pollutants or medical factors) is having a negative effect on your health.

Keep track of all instances where you are exposed to second-hand smoke and how your body responds to it. Finally, if you have any communication regarding the issue (with your neighbors, landlord, employer), document those communications, as well. Because these kinds of cases can be difficult to prove, having as much documentation as possible can help your cause.

Should I Consult an Attorney If I Have an Injury from Secondhand Smoke?

If you believe you have been injured by second-hand smoke, it is in your best interests to consult a qualified personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can talk you through the situation, advise you on the best course of action, and represent you in court if you do decide to file a lawsuit. Your attorney can advise you regarding programs and government services that may be helpful to you, as well.