Secondhand smoke comes from burning tobacco products, like cigarettes, cigars, hookahs or pipes. It’s also what’s exhaled, or breathed out, by the person smoking.

Cigarette and cigarillo (like a cigarette but rolled with brown paper) smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and about 70 that can directly cause cancer. Secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes are also harmful, containing cancer-causing heavy metals like nickel, tin, arsenic and lead.

Thirdhand smoke, which is the residue and gasses left on furniture, clothes, walls in a room or car after someone smokes or vapes, is harmful too. 

Harms of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is dangerous for all people—there is no safe amount of secondhand smoke or e-cigarette emissions.

  • Breathing secondhand smoke increases one’s risk of stroke, heart attack, respiratory diseases and lung cancer—even if you’ve never smoked.
  • E-cigarette emissions are toxic, exposing non-users to potential cancer-causing chemicals. 
  • E-cigarette emissions may reduce immune system function.
  • Babies exposed in utero to secondhand smoke are at higher risk of developing asthma as a child and experiencing or crib death.
  • Babies and children who breathe secondhand smoke are sick more often with bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections.
  • Secondhand smoke is also harmful to pets of all kinds. Any kind of exposure increases their risk of cancers, lung and respiratory issues, eye irritation and allergies.
  • For people with asthma, breathing just a small amount of secondhand smoke can trigger a severe attack.


Protecting Your Loved Ones & Pets from Secondhand Smoke

dont smoke home.png

Don't smoke in or near your home.

Homes are the main places where everyone, especially children, infants and pets, is exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoking in another room, opening a window or using a fan or air filter system does not get rid of secondhand smoke. Candles, air purifiers and air fresheners do not remove smoke toxins. 

Smoke travels under doors, windows, outlets, heating and cooling systems and through cracks. It also becomes trapped in fabrics, carpet and even on the walls, and can combine with other chemicals to create thirdhand smoke which is just as harmful. Thirdhand smoke is the residue and gas left on furniture, clothes or walls of a room or car after someone smokes or vapes.

Steps to Take: ​

  • Remind all guests that your living space is a smoke-free home. Hang up a sign if you need to.
  • If needed, create a designated smoking area outside, away from the home’s entryway and any common hangout or play areas.
  • Leave a covered trash bin nearby for cigarette waste. In addition to being the most common form of litter, cigarette butts are toxic to infants, children and pets.
  • Smoke stays in your clothing and hair. Store any clothing you regularly smoke in, like a jacket, separate and away from your family’s items.
  • Change your clothing and wash your hair before taking care of children, especially breastfeeding infants.
smoke free car.png

Make your car a smoke-free zone.

Cars are the #1 source of exposure reported by Vermont teens. There’s no way to avoid breathing in toxic tobacco smoke or vape emissions when in an enclosed space like a car, even when a window is down. In fact, it is against the law in Vermont to smoke any combustible product or vape in a car with a child under the age of 8.  

Steps to Take:

  • Remind passengers that your car is a smoke-free zone.
  • Close or fill your car’s ashtray with spare change or gum to avoid the temptation to smoke.
  • Store cigarettes, cigarillos or vape devices in the trunk and out of reach while driving.
no smoking.png

Consider quitting.

The best way to protect yourself and loved ones from secondhand smoke and e-cigarette emissions is to quit all forms of tobacco. Quitting is hard for everyone, and often takes several attempts. Many Vermonters are successful with the help of nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges, and confidential and non-judgmental counseling - all free at or 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

If your teen is vaping, smoking or using other tobacco products, find resources for parents and guardians at Teens can text Start My Quit to 36072 for free, confidential tobacco treatment and support. 


Our Work to Reduce Secondhand Smoke in Vermont

At the Health Department, we’re working with statewide partners, health care providers and lawmakers to reduce secondhand smoke and provide access to clean air in the following ways:

  • Vermont’s smoke-free laws making cars, housing, campuses, medical facilities and businesses smoke and tobacco-free
  • Tobacco-free environments in mental health and substance use treatment centers
  • Resources for landlords and property managers, including signage and resources for becoming a smoke-free property


Vermonters, Take the Smoke-Free Pledge!

Vermonters who smoke or businesses that support maintaining a smoke-free environment can take the Smoke-Free Pledge to demonstrate their commitment to a smoke-free Vermont.

So, what are you waiting for?  Take the Pledge

Tobacco Control Program
Vermont Department of Health - Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

280 State Drive
Waterbury, VT  05671-8380

[email protected]

Last Updated: