Secondhand Smoke Harms Pets, Too

Debbie Apolo
Certified tobacco-treatment specialist with American Lung Association

How did you come to be involved with American Lung Association?

I got involved with American Lung Association because prior to that I was the recreation director at YBA (Young Buddhist Association) Honolulu, and I ran Hawaii Asthma Camp. At one of our events, I heard about the opening with American Lung and decided to apply.


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Debbie Apolo and Scoobie | Nathalie Walker photos

What is your background and expertise in lung health?

I graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in recreation education. I am a tobacco-treatment specialist, certified by Mayo Clinic. I’m a public health educator with American Lung Association, and I’m the tobacco-control manager. I’ve been with them for 25 years.

What are your duties as the tobacco-control manager?

I oversee tobacco-control programs statewide. I have a program called Freedom From Smoking and it’s to help adults quit smoking. I facilitate the training. I have another program called Not On Tobacco. That is a teen quit smoking program for high schoolers. Then we have a similar program called Music With a Message. This is where we make use of young celebrities, going into high schools and middle schools with them, and they advocate their stance on tobacco. They talk to the kids and tell them, “I’d rather be dancing, I’d rather be singing,” and they talk about how that has kept them out of trouble: “I’m smoke-free, I have something to do.” It’s positive.

One of my main points of focus is addressing pets and smoking. This is less to do with the new forms of “smoking” you’re seeing now, using a vaporizer to vaporize juices or liquid that contains varying nicotine levels, and more to do with traditional cigarettes. This is why many people have begun to switch to e-cigarettes as a way to continue to remedy their cravings as well as protecting those around them, including pets, from the dangers of the toxic gases produced from smoking. This has led to people looking into getting personal vape pens and other vape equipment so that they can enjoy smoking without all of the effects being placed onto others.

To what extent are pets adversely affected by smoking?

Animals do more than just inhale. Tobacco residue collects on their fur, especially on cats and dogs. Then they groom themselves. Some pets even like to lick or eat cigarettes, which is very dangerous for them. Cigarettes are poison if eaten. Doctors say if a puppy swallows just two cigarettes, it can die. People don’t realize it, but just like with human babies, puppies take everything they find on the ground and they eat it.

Cats that live with smokers are twice as likely to develop a deadly form of cancer called feline lymphoma. After five years of living with a smoker, that rate increases to three times as likely. There are a number of other factors too. Data from University of Massachusetts studies raises the question of a possible link between passive smoking and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans, which is similar to lymphoma in cats.

Smoking is even worse for pets than it is for humans. Cats and dogs breathe more rapidly compared to humans, which means they’re taking in twice as much or more secondhand smoke. There’s a new study on thirdhand smoke now. Thirdhand smoke is the residue that stays on your skin and hair. If you have a dog around, it stays on the dog’s fur. If you go into a smoker’s house with a dog, they’re getting all of the toxins also.

What solution do you recommend?

Educate yourself and make a conscious decision on how long you want your pet to live. If you love your pet, quitting is one option. Things such as nicotine patches can help to give up smoking, so you might want to give them a try. If you choose not to quit, then you need to walk outside to smoke. When you come in, you’re going to have to change your clothes and take a shower. Smoking in the house means all of the toxins stay in the carpet, the particleboard, the drapery, the furniture. The more you smoke in the house, the more the toxins linger on and become more toxic. Just like humans, pets develop respiratory infections, eye irritations, lung inflammation and asthma when exposed to secondhand smoke. Yes, even pets can have asthma.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

We go into the community to do quit smoking programs, so if you have a worksite, you can invite us out. There are so many solutions, and we’d like to offer those to you.

If you love your pet, the best thing to do is to quit smoking.

For more information on smoking cessation, visit American Lung Association’s website at, or call 1-800-LUNG-USA to speak with a respiratory therapist about lung health or a quit smoking specialist, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for Hawaii’s quit line.