Smoking & tobacco
Protecting yourself from second-hand and third-hand smoke
There are many ways you can protect yourself, your children, and your family from second-hand smoke.
- If you smoke - quit. It's never too late to quit. By quitting smoking, you will make yourself and your family members healthier.
- If you won’t quit smoking, cut down, and smoke only outdoors. Smoking outdoors still means some smoke will come indoors; it comes inside on your clothes, hair and skin, and it seeps through cracks in buildings and doors. But smoking outdoors is better for your family's health than smoking inside the home or car.
- Never smoke around pregnant women, infants, children and teenagers.
- Don't allow smoke in your child's home, daycare, or the family car.
- Keep your family members away from anywhere people are smoking.
- Keep your family members away from any place where people usually smoke – even if they aren’t smoking while you’re there. Keep family members away from places people usually smoke. This could include restaurants, relatives’ homes, cars, etc. The chemicals in tobacco smoke get into curtains, carpets, toys, furniture, walls, car seats, clothing, skin, and hair. They stick around long after the cigarettes have been extinguished. It's not enough that the smoker doesn't light up when your child is there. If your child's in a room, house or car where people usually smoke, she will be exposed to the harmful chemicals in smoke. This is known as “third-hand” smoke.
- Remember that opening a window, running a fan or air purifier, or smoking near the chimney will not get rid of second-hand smoke.
What can I do if there’s drifting second-hand smoke in my apartment?
Second-hand smoke can drift under doors and through open windows, vents and electrical outlets. Drifting tobacco smoke is a problem for many people who live in multi-unit buildings as renters or as owners. Here's what you can do if second-hand smoke is entering your apartment:
Work out a solution
- Talk to your neighbors. Let them know you're interested in reaching a workable solution
- Look at your tenancy agreement. If your building is smoke-free, ask that the policy or bylaw be enforced
- If the problem continues, write your landlord and ask for help to resolve the issue
- If you have a chronic disease (asthma, COPD, health disease, etc.) or another condition made worse by second-hand smoke, get a note from your doctor that explains this and show your landlord.
Other things you can do to cut down on drifting tobacco smoke:
- Seal cracks, plug electrical outlets, weather strip doors and windows, and improve ventilation systems.
- Talk to your landlord or strata about putting into place a smoke-free policy or bylaw. Landlords have the right to make all or part of a building smoke-free.
- If you rent, ask to move to a different unit in your building, one that is free from drifting tobacco smoke
- Move to a smoke-free building. Make sure the tenancy agreement states that the entire building is smoke-free, including the unit, balconies/patios and common areas
If the situation doesn't improve or the landlord won't help, contact your local Residential Tenancy Office or Tenants Rights Coalition to discuss your options. To find your local office, go to search engine (for example, Google) and search residential tenancy office and the name of your province or ask your local librarian for help.
There are lots of benefits to making your properties smoke-free:
- Lower maintenance costs and fire insurance costs
- Tenants are protected from second-hand smoke
- You help meet a community need for smoke-free housing
You have a responsibility to act on reasonable tenant complaints and resolve the problem of drifting tobacco smoke. Timely and reasonable repairs will eliminate or reduce the problem. Smoke-free policies or bylaws need to be enforced where they are in place.
Convert vacant units to smoke-free units, moving toward a partial or complete smoke-free building, including balconies and patios.
Protecting kids from second-hands smoke:
a personal story from the mom of two kids with asthma
“It can be tough to take a stand on second-hand smoke, especially in families. I know. As the mother of two kids with asthma, I’ve had to tell their Grandpa, a smoker, that we can’t sleep over at his house because of the smoke.
We had to stop staying at Grandpa’s because our kids’ asthma symptoms got much worse after being there: they’d cough and wheeze more than usual while we were there, and their breathing problems would continue for up to two weeks afterwards. It got to the point where I was dreading visits to Grandpa’s, knowing that Patrick and Danielle would be paying the price.
After one Christmas visit that ended with an asthma attack in one child and an ear infection in the other, I knew I had to do something. My husband urged me not to make a scene- “Don’t say anything or you’ll offend my Dad”- but I just couldn’t keep bringing the kids to a place I knew was making them sick. I finally worked up the courage to talk to my father-in-law. I said that we’d love to keep visiting but would have to visit in restaurants or somewhere outside the house, and that we’d be sleeping in a motel instead of staying in his guest room. My father-in-law got really angry, and so did other family members. “But I smoke near the door when you’re visiting!”, my father-in-law said. I told him the kids still are affected, because the smoke has been absorbed in the furniture and rugs and things.
Then he offered to smoke outside the whole time we were visiting. I didn’t think it would make a difference- after all, he’s smoked a pack a day in that house for 15 years- the smoke in everything. My husband insisted we try one visit at Grandpa’s, to see if his smoking outside would make a difference. Unfortunately it didn’t- Patrick and Danielle still got bad asthma symptoms. That convinced my husband that keeping the kids away from the house is the right thing to do.
Now when we visit Grandpa, we meet him at a smoke-free restaurant or a park, and we stay at a motel. We also try to have more family events at our (smoke-free) house. To be honest, many family members are still mad at us for “making a fuss” about the smoky house, and there have been some heated arguments on the topic. My husband and I are resolved: even though we hate the tension this decision has created, we hate seeing our kids sick even worse.
As I see it, the real way to solve this dilemma is for Grandpa to quit smoking! But I don’t think that’s going to happen. So I’m willing to be the bad guy in my family’s eyes, for the sake of my kids.
-Isabelle, mother of 2, Orleans, Ontario