Smoking today is no longer limited to just cigarettes. All secondhand exposure produced by cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping devices, cigarillos, hookah, and marijuana, is harmful to your health. While almost all Californians are aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke from cigarettes, many are unsure about these other products.
A Secondhand Exposure Explanation
Cigarettes and Tobacco Smoke
There are nearly 70 cancer-causing chemicals in the secondhand smoke from cigarettes1 — even brief exposure to these toxic chemicals is dangerous. Secondhand smoke from cigarettes and other tobacco products that are burned (e.g., cigars, cigarillos, hookah) are very harmful to be around. The U.S. Surgeon General continues to warn the public that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Secondhand cigarette smoke is classified as a ‘toxic air contaminant,2 killing tens of thousands of Americans every year.3 It is especially dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. The health risks for children 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
- Asthma in children who previously have not had any symptoms
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)4
E-cigarettes and Vaping Devices – Vapor or Aerosol?
The use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is on the rise.5 It’s not a harmless water vapor that’s emitted but a toxic aerosol. Most aerosol is a mixture of nicotine, tiny particles of metals,6 7 and contains at least 10 chemicals identified by California’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.8 Much like cigarette smoke, e-cigarette aerosol produces ultrafine particles, which settle deeply into the lungs when inhaled by people using it or near it.9
Secondhand e-cigarette aerosol can contain harmful chemicals including:
- 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
- Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead9
The U.S. Surgeon General states that while e-cigarettes generally emit fewer toxic chemicals than cigarettes, e-cigarette aerosol potentially exposes bystanders to nicotine and other harmful substances.10
With the legalization of marijuana in 2016, more Californians are being exposed to another dangerous type of secondhand smoke. Marijuana produces toxic secondhand smoke associated with adverse health outcomes such as cardiovascular effects on the body – hardening and narrowing of the arteries, heart attack and stroke.11 It has significantly higher amounts of some toxic chemicals such as tar and ammonia, and more than twice the amount of hydrogen cyanide, an extremely poisonous chemical.12 There are decades of research proving the harmful effects of secondhand tobacco smoke and more than 4,000 Californians die each year from secondhand smoke related illnesses.13
E-cigarettes and vape products are relatively new, and while the research is growing, studies show secondhand aerosol is detrimental to indoor air quality due to increases in fine and ultrafine particulate matter, which is harmful to users and bystanders.10 14 15
Additionally, research is underway about marijuana, its potential health benefits and harms, and many questions remain. However, one thing is clear; marijuana secondhand smoke is harmful for people to be around and breathe.
While many Californians have adopted tobacco and smoke free rules in their homes, cars or personal space, secondhand smoke and aerosol still affect people in other ways.
Toxic secondhand smoke and aerosol can enter enclosed spaces through:
- Ventilation systems
- Cracks in the walls
- Light fixtures
Californians risk exposure to secondhand smoke and aerosol in public places, parks, sidewalks and outdoor dining areas that do not have or enforce a no-smoking policy.17
You can protect yourself from toxic secondhand smoke and aerosol. Contact your local Health Department if you want additional help or information. And, if you have a medical condition made worse by secondhand smoke drifting into your home, federal and state disability laws might help you address the problem (visit ChangeLab Solutions for free resources). Depending on the nature of your disability, landlords may be required to make changes to reduce your exposure.