Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), which is also known as secondhand smoke (SHS), is the smoke from a smoking device (cigarette, cigar, pipe) and the smoke exhaled by a smoker. Exposure to and/or inhalation of ETS is called passive smoking.

ETS and passive smoking are major public health concerns for a number of reasons. Over 7,000 chemicals have been identified in ETS. Of that number, 250 are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.[1]

ETS is also a known asthma trigger. ETS is known to cause:

  • Greater frequency of episodes and severity of symptoms in asthmatic children, as 400,000 to 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to ETS.[2]

  • New cases of asthma in children who have not previously displayed symptoms. The World Health Organization estimates that ETS exposure may result in between 8,000 to 26,000 new cases of asthma annually.[3]

Where does Massachusetts stand with ETS exposure? In Massachusetts, about 15% of households with children allow smoking in their home, which means that approximately 200,000 Massachusetts children are not protected from secondhand smoke in their own home. Additionally, over 500,000 (14%) adult nonsmokers in Massachusetts are exposed to ETS in the home, workplace, or elsewhere more than one hour per week.[4]

One hour per week may not sound like much, but according to the U.S. Surgeon General, there is no risk-free level of ETS exposure; breathing even a little ETS can be harmful to one’s health.[5] As such, smoking bans may be the best way to limit and reduce ETS exposure and ETS-related negative health effects,

Smoking bans would also limit and/or reduce other negative health effects of ETS exposure, including lung cancer among non-smokers, heart disease, and nasal/sinus disease. They would also limit and/or reduce negative health effects that children and infants are at an even greater risk of, including:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  • Lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Middle-ear infection.
  • Upper respiratory tract irritation.


[1] National Cancer Institute. “Secondhand smoke and cancer.” 12 January 2011. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/ETS>

[2] World Health Organization. “Passive Smoking.” The Tobacco Atlas. 2002. <http://www.who.int/tobacco/en/atlas10.pdf>

[3] World Health Organization. “Passive Smoking.” 2002.

[4] Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “Secondhand Smoke | Massachusetts Fact Sheet.” 1 June 2010;  <http://www.mass.gov/Eeohhs2/docs/dph/tobacco_control/secondhand_smoke_factsheet.pdf>

[5] Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” 4 January 2007. <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/factsheets/factsheet7.html>

The American Lung Association will be hosting "Health and Medical Community Briefing on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan on Tuesday July 8th at 4:00pm. Follow this link to register:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/941912842
Boston's Inspectional Services Department was honored at the National Healthy Homes Conference in Nashville last weekend with a Healthy Homes Champion Award for their proactive inspection work. Congratulations to everyone involved!! BHHSC applauds ISD for their continuing work to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy home! For more information on the proactive Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance, go to ISD's website.
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