Secondhand Smoke and Smokefree Policies

Breathing other people’s smoke is known as passive, involuntary or secondhand smoking (SHS). It can also be called ‘environmental tobacco smoke’.

Smokers and nonsmokers alike inhale SHS and this is an unavoidable consequence of being in a smoke-filled environment.

Exposure to SHS has immediate health effects. It can reduce lung function; exacerbate respiratory problems; trigger asthma attacks; reduce coronary blood flow; irritate eyes; and cause headaches, coughs, sore throats, dizziness and nausea. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke and there are long-term health effects, including heart disease and lung cancer, especially with continued exposure over time.

In response to these health risks and growing public demand for smokefree public places, most nations have passed laws to minimise citizens’ exposure to secondhand smoke.  Since 2007, smoking in enclosed public places has been prohibited throughout the UK. Regulations to prohibit smoking in cars when children are present entered into force on 1 October 2015 in England and Wales. Similar regulations are due to be implemented in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Article 8 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requires nations that have ratified the treaty to implement effective measures to protect people from secondhand smoke.

Guidelines on implementing Article 8 were adopted unanimously in 2007. These outline the requirement that countries should adopt comprehensive smokefree laws without exemptions or ventilation systems in all enclosed public places and workplaces.

Smokefree Legislation

This fact sheet provides an overview of smokefree laws together with related information including surveys showing levels of support for smokefree measures. June 2020. Download here.            

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Secondhand Smoke

Breathing other people’s smoke is called passive, involuntary or secondhand smoking. Health impacts range from eye irritation, headache, cough and sore throat, to heart disease and lung cancer. March 2020. Download here.              

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Smoking in Cars

Information on smoking and cars is now available in the Smokefree Legislation fact sheet. Download here.                  

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Implementation of the smokefree law

Provides an overview of the smokefree legislation including details of enforcement, exemptions and penalties.

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Foster care, adoption and smoking

A joint briefing from ASH and the Fostering Network. Jan. 2016

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ASH Research Report: Secondhand Smoke

This Research Report examines the scientific knowledge and health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

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ASH Research Report: Impact of Secondhand smoke on Children

Although children’s exposure to secondhand smoke in the UK has fallen, around 4 million people still smoke in the presence of children. Educational campaigns are needed to raise awareness of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on children. Download the report here.

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Laws Banning Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Children – International Overview

Laws prohibiting smoking in vehicles carrying children have been adopted in 10 Canadian provinces/territories, 7 Australian states/territories, 6 U.S. states, as well as South Africa, Mauritius, Bahrain, and Puerto Rico. A briefing  by the Canadian Cancer Society.  2014.  

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Inquiry into smoking in private vehicles – APPG Report

All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health report on smoking in private vehicles – November 2011

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Impact of smokefree legislation: evidence review

On 9 March 2011, the Government launched its Tobacco Control Plan and also published an academic review of the impact of the smokefree legislation that was implemented in England in 2007.  The review demonstrates that smokefree legislation has had beneficial effects on health. Evidence review  

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Smoking in the Workplace

The Government has published proposals to prohibit smoking in most workplaces in England. The law is expected to come into effect in 2007. Scotland has already passed legislation to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces: the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act takes effect in March 2006. The Welsh Assembly has voted in favour of smokefree workplaces […]

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