When burned, cigarettes create tar, a sticky toxic chemical substance that clogs up the lungs. When someone smoking a cigarette exhales, the smoky air they breathe out combines with smoke from the burning cigarette to become second-hand smoke. There’s no known safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke from tobacco products.
Second-hand smoke exposure, including exposure at work or at home, can lead to serious health problems like:
Children who live with second-hand smoke have higher risks of serious health issues like respiratory infections, multiple middle ear infections (that can lead to hearing loss), tonsillitis, childhood obesity, and breathing issues during sleep (like sleep apnea).
About 250 chemicals in tobacco cigarette smoke are harmful and at least 69 are known to cause cancer, including benzene. Benzene is also found in vaping products. You may have heard that some cigarette ingredients are approved as additives for foods we eat. This is true, but when they are burned or heated, they become toxic.
Cannabis smoke and aerosol are also health concerns. Cannabis smoke has some of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke and can cause harm to the lungs. Although research is limited because of the recent legalization of cannabis, early evidence shows that children who live in homes with indoor cannabis smoking may have higher risks for health problems.
Aerosol is often seen when it is exhaled from the nose and mouth of people who vape. Aerosol may not be as harmful as second-hand smoke, but it does have some risk. Some of the chemical compounds in both e-liquids and aerosols are labelled as harmful, toxic, and cancer-causing. Nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco products, is often found in vaping products. People who are exposed to second-hand aerosol have been found to have cancer-causing tobacco-specific nitrosamines in their urine, even if they don’t vape themselves.
Like second-hand smoke, second-hand aerosol can cause harm. To reduce your risk and your family’s risk, treat vaping exposure like smoking exposure.
After the air clears from smoking or vaping, the toxic chemicals that settle on surfaces become a residue called third-hand smoke or third-hand aerosol.
Nicotine and other toxic chemicals have been found on surfaces like windows, walls, and floors in homes where people have either smoked or vaped. Being exposed to third-hand smoke may cause DNA damage and increase your risk of health problems, including asthma and cancer.
Residue has been found on windows, walls, and floors, as well as in dust and on wood and metal surfaces. Indoors, the residue can stay around for minutes to months.
Third-hand exposure can happen when you ingest (swallow) residue, breathe it in, or absorb it through your skin. Young children are especially vulnerable to third-hand exposure because of how they crawl, explore with their hands, and put their hands or toys in their mouths.
One way to reduce harm to you and your family’s health is to not allow smoke or aerosol inside your home and car. This is called making them “clean air spaces.” Everyone, including people who use tobacco or vaping products, will benefit from this healthy change. Even your pets will benefit.
In Alberta, it is illegal to smoke or vape in your vehicle with a child inside. Opening the window will not remove harm and may send smoke or aerosol into the back seat where children often sit.
Try these ideas to support a healthy smoke-free and aerosol-free environment:
Current as of: February 3, 2023
Author: Tobacco, Vaping, and Cannabis Program
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.