Second-Hand Smoke

There are two types of second-hand smoke:

  • Smoke exhaled by the smoker
  • Smoke that comes from a burning cigarette, cigar or pipe and is inhaled by people nearby

Exposure to second-hand smoke occurs primarily in homes, cars, workplaces and public places, such as outside of bars and restaurants.

Health effects of second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke is a serious health threat. The mixture of harmful gases and particles in second-hand smoke causes many diseases and conditions in individuals who are exposed regularly. There is no safe level of exposure. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. There are many dangers of second-hand smoke for infants, children and adults.

Learn more about how to make your home and car smoke-free

Third-hand smoke 

Third-hand smoke is the particles that remain on surfaces and in dust after cigarettes, cigars, cannabis or pipes have been smoked. Over time these particles build up and become secondary toxins. Some of these secondary toxins are known to cause cancer and other health problems.

Babies and small children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of third-hand smoke as they are in direct contact with contaminated surfaces such as clothes, carpets and floors, car seats and furnishings.

Learn more how to create a smoke-free environment for your children.

Second-hand smoke in multi-unit dwellings 

More and more Ontarians are living in condominiums and apartment buildings. Exposure to second-hand smoke in multi-unit dwellings is becoming a bigger issue as more people learn about the dangers of second-hand smoke and begin to take action.

Second-hand smoke drift throughout a multi-unit dwelling via open windows, balconies, hallways, electrical outlets, cable or phone jacks, ceiling fixtures, plumbing, ventilation systems, doors, floors, walls and ceilings.

Multi-unit dwellings include:

  • Multi-storey apartment buildings
  • Condominiums
  • Townhouses
  • Duplexes
  • Semi-detached houses
  • Houses partitioned into apartment units
  • Basement suites

Watch this short video for landlords and property managers about the benefits of including a smoke-free clause or review Smoke-Free Housing Ontario's rental resources

If you are a tenant or a landlord and want more information on what you can do about second-hand smoke in your building, check the Smoke-Free Housing Ontario website.

Smoke-free community housing in Waterloo Region 

Waterloo Region Housing has a smoke-free policy on all new leases. To share our experiences with others, we have created this short video Smoke-free Community that documents how Region of Waterloo developed the smoke-free policy and what work has been done to evaluate its success.

Article - A Smoke-free Community Housing Policy: Changes in Reported Smoking Behaviour - Findings from Waterloo Region, Canada - an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine about the Waterloo Region smoke-free housing policy.

Second-hand cannabis smoke

Smoke is smoke. The chemical make up of second-hand cannabis smoke is similar to second-hand tobacco smoke. It is important to note that the effects of second-hand exposure to cannabis smoke are generally much lower and/or weaker than the effects experienced by active cannabis smokers.

Exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke
Exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke can cause:
  • Discomfort and irritation (eyes, nose and throat)
  • Respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chronic bronchitis
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Positive tests for cannabinoids and cannabinoid metabolites (e.g. THC) in bodily fluids such as saliva, blood and urine
  • Feelings of intoxication or feeling high

By-products of combustion such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals which are known to contribute to respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease and cancers are found in second-hand cannabis smoke.

Smoking cannabis in enclosed and/or indoor spaces is not recommended, especially when children, pregnant women, seniors or people with pre-existing health conditions are present.

There is limited evidence available on the long-term health effects of exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke.

Strategies to reduce second-hand cannabis smoke

Avoid smoking cannabis

To avoid the health risks from smoking cannabis, it is recommended to use cannabis in other ways such as vaping/e-cigarette devices. It is important to note that these methods of use are not risk-free.

Smoking outside

The legislation would prohibit smoking cannabis in places where smoking tobacco and using e-cigarettes would be prohibited in alignment with the rules set out in the Smoke-free Ontario Act. When smoking cannabis outdoors on your property, be considerate of others by moving away from any entrances, exits or windows to your home and your neighbours homes where possible.

Cannabis use and multi-unit dwellings

The information provided to you by Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services and its staff does not constitute legal advice. To determine your rights and obligations under the Residential Tenancies ActCannabis Act and the Smoke-free Ontario Act and their regulations, please contact your legal counsel or refer to the legislation.

If you live in an apartment or a condo be sure to check the rules for your building and/or your lease agreement. You may be able to use cannabis in your unit, which may include a balcony or patio. 

If you are exposed to cannabis smoke in your unit, and it is affecting your ability to reasonably enjoy your unit, put your complaint in writing to your landlord. For a step-by step process for taking action, tenants can visit Smoke-free Housing Ontario.

Medical cannabis use

The ability to smoke cannabis for medical purposes is not a human right.  A landlord must address each medical cannabis accommodation request on a case-by-case basis. 

  • A licensed medical cannabis user is permitted to smoke medical cannabis outdoors in places where cigarette smoking is allowed as per the Smoke-free Ontario Act and their building's smoke-free policies.
  • There are other ways that people can use cannabis that don’t involve smoking, such as vaping which eliminate the harmful health effects of combustion and second-hand smoke. 

 Landlords, if you would like more information on accommodating medical cannabis requests in your multi-unit dwellings see Medical Cannabis Advice for Landlords, Co-ops, and Condos

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