No Safe Level of Secondhand Tobacco Smoke

Countries around the world are taking action to adopt smoke-free laws that ban smoking in all indoor public places, workplaces, and public transport.

Public health authorities worldwide have concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.1 Secondhand smoke causes serious diseases and premature death. Secondhand smoke has been proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, and serious respiratory conditions.2, 3 Every year, exposure to secondhand smoke causes over 600,000 premature deaths worldwide.4

The evidence is clear, there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. I urge all countries that have not yet done so to take this immediate and important step to protect the health of all by passing laws requiring all indoor workplaces and public places to be 100% smoke-free.Dr. Margaret Chan, Former Director-General, World Health Organization

Scientific evidence is clear that the only effective way to protect workers and the public from secondhand smoke is to implement comprehensive smoke-free environments by banning smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues,5 as well as some outdoor spaces including educational and health institutions, and sports venues. Scientific evidence shows that other approaches, such as providing designated smoking areas and separate ventilation, do not provide adequate health protection.6

Smoke-Free Laws: Popular and Effective

Comprehensive smoke-free laws that ban smoking in public places have proven to be popular with the public7, 8 and easy to implement and enforce. Scientific studies show these laws quickly improve health9, 10 and do not harm business.11, 12

Article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requires Parties to the treaty to adopt effective smoke-free laws to protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in workplaces, public transport and other indoor public places. Article 8 Guidelines make it clear that only comprehensive smoke-free laws that ban smoking in all indoor or enclosed public places, including workplaces, meet the treaty requirements13. Since 2004, when Ireland adopted a national smoke-free law, at least 55 countries have adopted comprehensive smoke-free national legislation.14

1 WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Smoke-free Policies. IARC Handbook of Cancer Prevention. Lyon: WHO IARC, 2009.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, 2006.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How tobacco smoke causes disease: the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease: a report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of Surgeon General, 2010.
4 Oberg M et al. Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries. Lancet, 2010.
5 WHO. Protection from exposure to second-hand smoke: Policy recommendations. Geneva, 2007.
6 American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Environmental Tobacco Smoke: Position Document. Atlanta, 2005.
7 Fong GT et al. Reductions in Tobacco Smoke Pollution and Increases in Support for Smoke-Free Public Places Following the Implementation of Comprehensive Smoke-Free Workplace Legislation in the Republic of Ireland: Findings from the ITC Ireland/UK Survey. Tobacco Control 2006; 15 (Suppl III): iii51–8.
8 Thomson G et al. One year of Smoke-Free Bars and Restaurants in New Zealand: Impacts and Responses. BMC Public Health 2006; 6: 64.
9 Jones MR et al Cardiovascular Events Following Smoke-Free Legislation: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2014 Sep 1; 1(3): 239-249.
10 Faber T et al. Smoke-free legislation and child health. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med 2016 Nov 17; 26: 16067.
11 Scollo M et al. Review of the quality of studies on the economic effects of smoke-free policies on the hospitality industry. Tob Control 2003 Mar; 12 (1): 13-20.
12 Lopez CM et al. The economic impact of Mexico City's smoke-free law. Tobacco Control. 2011 Jul; 20 (4): 273-8.
13 Guidelines for implementation of Article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke. In: WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: guidelines for implementation Article 5.3; Article 8; Articles 9 and 10; Article 11; Article 12; Article 13; Article 14 – 2013 edition.
14 Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Tobacco Control Laws Database.

Last updated Sept. 12, 2017