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The research on cigarette secondhand smoke is overwhelming – with over 7,000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are cancer-causing, even brief exposure is dangerous.1

And now, there's a new danger from the harmful aerosol produced by e-cigarettes. Secondhand smoke and aerosol is both what users exhale, and what comes out of the end of a cigarette, e-cigarette, cigar, or cigarillo. The smoke and aerosol can stay in the air and can be involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers.

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Toxic e-cigarette aerosol can contain harmful chemicals including nicotine; fine and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavoring such diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead. 2

The U.S. Surgeon General says there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. This means that millions may be exposed to secondhand smoke and aerosol even if they do not allow smoking or vaping in their unit.3 And while many Californians have made the choice to not allow smoking inside their homes, many living in apartments and condominiums are still exposed to drifting toxic secondhand smoke.

Smoke from a neighboring apartment or condo can enter through:

  • Ventilation systems
  • Cracks in the walls
  • Floorboards
  • Light fixtures
  • Drains
  • Windows

In fact, toxic secondhand smoke exposure can cause asthma in children who have previously not had any symptoms3. Other health effects on children from secondhand smoke exposure4 include:

  • Low birth weight and lung problems in infants
  • Acute lower respiratory tract infections (bronchitis and pneumonia)
  • Middle-ear infections
  • Chronic respiratory symptoms or problems

Tobacco smoke is also absorbed into walls, floors, furniture, clothes, toys and other household surfaces within minutes to hours after it is exhaled. Chemicals in the smoke can then be recycled into the air for hours, days and even months.5 Airing out rooms or separating the smoking from nonsmoking units within the same building does not always provide protection.

Not allowing smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to completely prevent exposure to secondhand smoke. Owners of apartment buildings have the right to make their buildings smoke-free. Landlords can actually save money in cleaning costs when preparing a unit that a smoker lived in for a new tenant. According to a 2010 study, on average, it costs nearly $5,000 more to prepare a smoking unit for a new tenant than it does to prepare a nonsmoking unit.6

If you have a medical condition made worse by secondhand smoke drifting into your apartment, federal and state disability laws might help you address the problem. Depending on the nature of your disability, your landlord may be required to make changes to reduce your exposure.

For more information and free resources, visit ChangeLab SolutionsFor additional help contact your local Health Department.