Several of my coworkers take regular smoke breaks outside the office a few times per day. I don't smoke, but I join them once or twice a day. There are a few reasons why I find it valuable to do this:

  1. I enjoy the break, and the conversation
  2. Spending time with these coworkers builds my rapport with them
  3. Most importantly, valuable business-related information is often discussed

I'm aware of some of the research around secondhand smoke. In particular, I'm aware that it's considered a no-threshold toxicant, which means that the risk increases with exposure, and that even a small amount of exposure can be harmful. Furthermore, the effects of secondhand smoke are well-known to be harmful.

So why the question? I'm trying to weigh the costs and benefits. Essentially everything we do risks some harm for some reward. (E.g., I gather that bonfires are also a no-threshold toxicant.) Presumably the many people in my situation would like a more nuanced answer as to how much risk am I taking by standing outside next to smokers for 15-30 minutes per day?

  • I would imagine it is somewhat dependent on the weather and how close you are standing to them.
    – L.B.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:25
  • Even if you avoid direct exposure to their smoke (that should minimize most of the risk linked to inhalation), there is a greater risk that you are exposed to: peer pressure. Over a long period of time you could feel compelled to start start smoking.
    – beppe9000
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:40
  • To calculate the risk you would need to know the concentration of each substance in the air that you are breathing - I don't know if there is an estimation of concentrations of cigarette smoke pollutants if you are standing next to a smoker outdoors, per cigarette. If there is such an estimation one would use a formula like this: rais.ornl.gov/tools/rais_chemical_risk_guide.html (section but would adjust the no of days according to yours and turn 8h/day into say 0.5h/day in the numerator. If you can dig up some research on the concentrations, I can give the calculation a try
    – Lucky
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 21:11
  • @Garbanzo Are you not satisfied with the answer below? What other information are you looking for?
    – TheJKFever
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 0:25

2 Answers 2


Your question has no correct answer. It is up to take the pain for a gain. What I would do is look for other times when I can build rapports.

However, studies show that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk for many of the health problems associated with direct smoking.

Risk on respiratory system: asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Other risks: lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Passive smoking effects

A good explanation from SO

Risk of autoimmune disease

Below Quotes are from the fact sheet

It is estimated that secondhand smoke caused nearly 34,000 heart disease deaths each year during 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States.

Secondhand smoke exposure caused more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year during 2005–2009 among adult nonsmokers in the United States

Since 1964, approximately 2,500,000 nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

If each cigarette lasts for 6 mins, if you inhale even 5% of smoke passively (which is very less than the real scenario) from each smoker.

If you stand with 2 smokers for 24 mins in a day, 2 smokers x 6 mins x 5% x 4 times = 240% per day i.e equivalent of 2.4 cigarette smokes.

So in short Yes, it is highly risky


It's very difficult to give a percentage of risk increase regarding an exposition of 15-30 minutes a day.

For example, i can stay 15-30 minutes with some colleagues (3 or 4) in a garden, a very open space, each of them smoke only half a cigarette so my exposure will be relatively small. I can also make a break of 15-30 minutes with 10 colleagues in a small place and each of them meanwhile smokes two cigarettes.

Risk increase are defined by big epidemiological study that measure the incidence of pathologies over the time, it's a pooled value and it's very difficult to account only for smoke exposition since every human is different and there are a lot of factors.

Since it's difficult to give you a precise risk i'll give you my honest personal opinion: seconhand smoke is harmful as well reported in literature, why do i have to take even a very small risk for a chronic exposition because of a bad habit of my colleagues?

  • 4
    This has the makings of a good answer, but here on Health, we strongly encourage using references. They are the only way in which we can tell if information is reliable or not. If you are struggling to find good sources, check out, What are reliable sources? If you want to learn more about our site's stance on answers without references, check out, Should answers without references be immediately deleted?
    – Dave Liu
    Commented Feb 13, 2016 at 19:27

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