Second Hand Smoke

Second-hand smoke is the smoke that comes from the end of a burning cigarette, cigar or pipe and the smoke breathed out when a person exhales.

The mixture of harmful gases and particles in second-hand smoke cause many diseases and conditions in healthy non-smokers who are exposed regularly.

Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer.

Second-hand smoke is labelled a "Group A" carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which means it is known to cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to it.


Second-hand smoke a health threat to non-smokers

Second-hand smoke is a serious health threat to healthy non-smokers.

In 2011/2012, non-smokers 12 years of age and older in Waterloo Region reported regular second-hand smoke (SHS) exposure in:

  • Public places (11.7 per cent)
  • A motor vehicle (4.9 per cent)
  • At home (2.6 per cent)

Almost 17 per cent of non-smokers reported that they are exposed to second-hand smoke in one or more of these three places.

Rates of second-hand smoke exposure in Waterloo Region appear to have decreased over time from 2007/2008 to 2011/2012 in the home (5.7 per cent to 2.6 per cent), as well as in vehicles (6.7 per cent to 4.9 per cent). At the same time, the rate of second-hand smoke exposure in public places has significantly increased from 2007/2008 (6.3 per cent) to 2011/2012 (11.7 per cent).

Adult exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer, breast cancer, nasal sinus cavity and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

In particular, evidence shows a 20 to 30 per cent increased risk of lung cancer from SHS exposure associated with living with someone who smokes. Exposure to SHS has also been shown to increase the risk of certain childhood cancers including leukemia, lymphomas, and brain tumours.

Exposure to second-hand smoke occurs primarily in the home, cars, workplaces, and public places, such as outside of bars and restaurants (e.g., patios).

Exposure to second-hand smoke for as little as 8-20 minutes causes a physical reaction linked to heart disease and stroke. The physical reaction includes:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased oxygen supply to the heart
  • Constricted blood vessels; due to this, the heart works harder and the blood pressure increases

Non-smokers exposed to outdoor second-hand smoke report they suffer immediate effects including breathing difficulties, eye irritation, headache, nausea and asthma attacks.

The health effects on children exposed to second-hand smoke include Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and breathing problems in children as young as 18 months of age.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes are more likely to suffer breathing problems such as asthma, bronchitis, more frequent colds and ear infections.

Children are also twice as likely to take up smoking if their parents smoke.

For information on making your home and/or car smoke-free, go to Make your home and car smoke free: A guide to protecting your family from second-hand smoke.


Second-hand smoke and multi-unit dwellings (MUDs)

More and more Ontarians are living in multi-unit dwellings such as condominium and apartment buildings. Exposure to second-hand smoke in multi-unit dwellings is becoming a bigger issue as more people learn about the dangers of second-hand smoke and begin to take action.

Second-hand smoke can enter into units within a multi-unit dwelling via open windows, balconies, hallways, electrical outlets, cable or phone jacks, ceiling fixtures, plumbing, ventilation systems, doors, floors, walls and ceilings.

In addition to second-hand smoke, "third-hand smoke" is formed when the "stale" smoke that lands on indoor surfaces reacts with other pollutants in the air and sunlight to form new chemicals that off-gas from these surfaces.

A multi-unit dwelling is defined as any type of building that contains more than one residential unit and includes:

  • Multi-storey apartment buildings
  • Condominiums
  • Townhouses
  • Duplexes
  • Semi-detached houses
  • Houses partitioned into apartment units
  • Basement suites

The amount of indoor poisons from second-hand smoke at any given time depends on a number of things:

  • The number of cigarettes smoked
  • How quickly the chemicals from side-stream and mainstream smoke enter the air
  • The volume of air into which the smoke is emitted
  • How quickly the chemicals found in second-hand smoke are removed by ventilation systems
  • How quickly the smoke particles land on surfaces and are absorbed
  • How quickly the smoke particles begin off-gassing from indoor surfaces

If you are a tenant or a landlord and would like to get more information on what you can do about drifting second-hand smoke in your unit or building, check out the Smoke-Free Housing Ontario.


Smoke-free policy in community housing:
The Region of Waterloo experience

On April 1, 2010, Waterloo Region Housing and Region of Waterloo Community Housing Inc. became the first community-housing landlords in Ontario to implement a smoke-free policy on all new leases.

In order to share our experiences with others, we have created this short video that documents how the Region of Waterloo developed the smoke-free policy and what work has been done to evaluate its success.

For more information on the process to create the policy go to Program Training and Consultation Centre.

Waterloo Region Housing Smoke-free Policy

Waterloo Region Housing Smoke-free Policy Evaluation Reports

Findings of the 2010 Waterloo Region Housing and Region of Waterloo Community Housing Inc. Household Tenant Survey

Findings of the 2011 Waterloo Region Housing and Region of Waterloo Community Housing Inc. Household Tenant Survey

Findings of the 2013 Waterloo Region Housing Household Tenant Survey

Article - A Smoke-free Community Housing Policy: Changes in Reported Smoking Behaviour - Findings from Waterloo Region, Canada


Third-hand smoke

Third hand smoke is the smoke particles that remain on surfaces and in dust after tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes have been smoked. Over time these particles build up and can be re-emitted back into a gas phase or can react with oxidants or other compounds in the environment to create secondary toxins. Some of these toxins are known to cause cancer and other health problems.

Babies and small children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of third hand smoke as they are in direct contact with contaminated surfaces such as clothes, carpets/floors, car seats and furnishings.

The Ontario Lung Association - Third Hand Smoke

Best Start - A Smoke-free Environment for your Children


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