What You Need to Know About All Secondhand Smoke, Vape and Marijuana

July 6, 2021

secondhand smoke and vape

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.

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:

  • Nicotine
  • Fine and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavoring such as 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.

Eliminate Exposure
While many Californians have adopted tobacco and smokefree 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
  • Floorboards
  • Light fixtures
  • Drains
  • Windows16

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 for additional help, information, or to report a secondhand smoke issue.  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.

To contact your local health department or to find out what your city’s secondhand smoke protections are, visit SecondhandDangers.org.

References renameme

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quitting smoking. cdc.gov. Page updated February 1, 2017. Accessed January 4, 2019
  2. California Air Resources Board. Environmental Tobacco Smoke. arb.ca.gov. Accessed January 3, 2019
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Secondhand smoke: An unequal danger. CDC Vital Signs. February 2015. Accessed January 4, 2019.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Secondhand Smoke What It Means to You. U.S. 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 (2006).
  5. Cullen KA, Ambrose BK, Gentzke AS, Apelberg BJ, Jamal A, King BA. Notes from the Field: Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students - United States, 2011-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(45):1276-1277. Published 2018 Nov 16. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6745a5
  6. Hess CA, Olmedo P, Navas-Acien A, Goessler W, Cohen JE, Rule AM. E-cigarettes as a source of toxic and potentially carcinogenic metals. Environ Res. 2016;152:221-225.
  7. Aherrera A, Olmedo P, Tanda S, et al. The association of e-cigarette use with exposure to nickel and chromium: A preliminary study of non-invasive biomarkers. Environ Res. 2017:159:313-320.
  8. California Department of Public Health. State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes: A community health threat. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Public Health, Tobacco Control Program. 2015.
  9. U.S. Surgeon General: Know the Risks: E-cigarettes and Young People
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2016.
  11. Wang X, Derakhshandeh R, Liu J, et al. One Minute of Marijuana Secondhand Smoke Exposure Substantially Impairs Vascular Endothelial Function. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016;5(8):e003858. Published 2016 Jul 27. doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.003858
  12. Moir D, Rickert WS, Levasseur G, et al. Comparison of Mainstream and Sidestream Marijuana and Tobacco Cigarette Smoke Produced under Two Machine Smoking Conditions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2008;21(2):494-502.
  13. California Environmental Protection Agency. Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant. Sacramento, CA: California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. 2005.
  14. Schober W, Szendrei K, Matzen W, et al. Use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) impairs indoor air quality and increases FeNO levels of e-cigarette consumers. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2014; 217(6): 628-637. doi: 10.1016/j. ijheh.2013.11.003
  15. Soule EK, Maloney SF, Spindle TR, Rudy AK, Hiler MM, Cobb CO. Electronic cigarette use and indoor air quality in a natural setting. Tob Control. 2017; 26(1): 109-112. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052772
  16. Center for Energy and Environment. Reduction of Environmental Tobacco Smoke Transfer in Minnesota Multifamily Buildings Using Air Sealing and Ventilation Treatments. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Energy and Environment; 2004.
  17. California Department of Public Health. California Adult Tobacco Survey. 2018.