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Ways to reduce the health risks of secondhand smoke

In the home

  • Don't smoke in your house or permit others to do so.
  • If a family member insists on smoking indoors, increase ventilation in the area where smoking takes place. Open windows or use exhaust fans.
  • Do not smoke if children are present, particularly infants and toddlers. They are particularly susceptible to the effects of passive smoking.
  • Don't allow baby-sitters or others who work in your home to smoke in the house or near your children.

Where children spend time

EPA recommends that every organization dealing with children have a smoking policy that effectively protects children from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

  • Find out about the smoking policies of the day care providers, pre-schools, schools, and other care-givers for your children.
  • Help other parents understand the serious health risks to children from secondhand smoke. Work with parent/teacher associations, your school board and school administrators, community leaders, and other concerned citizens to make your child's environment smoke free.

In the workplace

EPA recommends that every company have a smoking policy that effectively protects nonsmokers from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. Many businesses and organizations already have smoking policies in place but these policies vary in their effectiveness.

  • If your company does not have a smoking policy that effectively controls secondhand smoke, work with appropriate management and labor organizations to establish one.
  • Simply separating smokers and nonsmokers within the same area, such as a cafeteria, may reduce exposure, but nonsmokers will still be exposed to recirculated smoke or smoke drifting into nonsmoking areas.
  • Prohibiting smoking indoors or limiting smoking to rooms that have been specially designed to prevent smoke from escaping to other area of the building are two options that will effectively protect nonsmokers. The costs associated with establishing properly designated smoking rooms vary from building to building, and are likely to be greater than simply eliminating smoking entirely.

If smoking is permitted indoors, it should be in a room that meets several conditions:

  • Air from the smoking room should be directly exhausted to the outside by an exhaust fan. Air from the smoking room should not be recirculated to other parts of the building. More air should be exhausted from the room than is supplied to it to make sure ETS doesn't drift to surrounding spaces.
  • The ventilation system should provide the smoking room with 60 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of supply air per smoker. This air is often supplied by air transferred from other parts of the building, such as corridors.
  • Nonsmokers should not have to use the smoking room for any purpose. It should be located in a non-work area where no one, as part of his or her work responsibilities, is required to enter.
  • Employer-supported smoking cessation programs are an important part of any smoking policy. Approximately 20 percent of American adults still smoke. Many smokers would like to quit, but cigarette smoking is physically and psychologically addictive, and quitting is not easy. While working in a smoke-free building may encourage some smokers to quit, a goal of any smoking policy should be to actively support smokers who want to kick the habit.
  • If there are designated outdoor smoking areas, smoking should not be permitted right outside the doors (or near building ventilation system air intakes) where nonsmokers may have to pass through smoke from smokers congregated near doorways. Some employers have set up outdoor areas equipped with shelters and ashtrays to accommodate smokers.

In restaurants and bars

  • Know the law concerning smoking in your community. Some communities have banned smoking in places such as restaurants entirely. Others require separate smoking areas in restaurants, although most rely on simply separating smokers and nonsmokers within the same space, which may reduce but not eliminate tobacco exposure (ETS).
  • If smoking is permitted, placement of smoking areas should be determined with some knowledge of the ventilation characteristics of the space to minimize nonsmoker exposure. For example, nonsmoking areas should be near air supply ducts while smoking areas should be near return registers or exhausts.
  • Ask to be seated in nonsmoking areas as far from smokers as possible.
  • If your community does not have a smoking control ordinance, urge that one be enacted. If your local ordinances are not sufficiently protective, urge your local government officials to take action.
  • Few restrictions have been imposed in bars where drinking and smoking seem to go together. In the absence of state or local laws restricting smoking in bars, encourage the proprietor to consider his or her nonsmoking clientele, and frequent places that do so.

In other indoor spaces

Does your state or community have laws addressing smoking in public spaces? Many states have laws prohibiting smoking in public facilities such as schools, hospitals, airports, bus terminals, and other public buildings. Know the law. Take advantage of laws designed to protect you. Federal laws now prohibit smoking on all airline flights of six hours or less within the U.S. and on all interstate bus travel.

Created by the Environmental Protection Agency.


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Review Date: 6/29/2012
Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine UMDNJ-NJMS, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Previoulsy reviewed by David A. Kaufman, MD, Section Chief, Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Bridgeport Hospital-Yale New Haven Health System, and Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. (6/1/2010)
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