Secondhand Smoke: The Facts

18 Aug 2008

Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke or tobacco smoke pollution, is a complex mixture of more than 4800 chemical compounds, including scores that are known toxins and carcinogens.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and several government agencies, secondhand smoke is a human carcinogen [2] for which there is no “safe” level of exposure. [3]It is estimated that over half – 700 million – of the world’s children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke.

Secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, chronic respiratory ailments, birth defects, SIDS and a host of other ailments. These findings have been reaffirmed by the UK Scientific Committee on Tobacco or Health, [4]the US Surgeon General, [5] the French National Assembly, [6] the California Environmental Protection Agency, [7] and others.

Among the most important measures in the fight against the tobacco epidemic is eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke in indoor public places, workplaces and public transport. Many national and subnational jurisdictions have adopted laws that provide almost universal protection against tobacco smoke in all indoor public places and workplaces. Evidence surrounding the implementation of these laws shows a remarkably similar pattern. Smoke-free laws are effective in protecting public health. They are practical, workable, and economically beneficial. They are popular, enjoying exceptionally high levels of public support. [8]

The tobacco industry views the proliferation of smoke-free laws as a threat to its livelihood, and has fought new laws at every level of government. The industry’s tactics to delay and undermine the implementation of smoke-free laws have included questioning the scientific basis underpinning such laws, predicting economic doom for the hospitality business, and promoting other solutions such as “accommodation” and “courtesy of choice” programs.

More information

Smokefree Air Law Enforcement – Lessons from the Field [Adobe Acrobat PDF – 630.89 KB] guide.
The guide is a comprehensive package of inspection and enforcement strategies, protocols, and lessons learned from countries and sub-national jurisdictions that have successfully implemented smokefree policies.  It is intended for tobacco control advocates, enforcement personnel and policymakers engaged in enforcement efforts in their countries. 


2.International Agency for Research on Cancer ( IARC ) Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Volume 83. Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking. IARC , Lyon (2004).

3. WHO, Protection from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke: Policy Recommendations (2008).

4. UK Scientific Committee on Tobacco or Health. Secondhand Smoke: Review of Evidence since 1998 (November 2004).

5.US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General ( Atlanta , Georgia : June 2006).

6. Assemblée Nationale Française. Rapport Fait Au Nom De La Mission D’Information Sur L’Interdiction Du Tabac Dans Les Lieux Publics (No. 3353, 4 octobre 2006).

7.California Environmental Protection Agency: Air Resources Board. Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant (June 2005).

8. WHO, Protection from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke: Policy Recommendations (2008).

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