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Public places that allow smoking are now few and far between in California. While that’s mostly a public health win, it also may have tricked us into forgetting about the danger of secondhand smoke exposure. Even though we don’t see people lighting up like we used to, it’s still happening. In fact, secondhand smoke is responsible for the deaths of nearly 4,000 Californians each year.

With bars, restaurants, hotels and other public establishments nearly entirely smoke-free, where are people at risk for exposure? For many, right at home. Those living in apartments or other multifamily residences are particularly vulnerable as smoke drifts, not only through windows, but also through walls, floors, vents, drains and electrical outlets. And once inside your home, the smoke can linger, bringing with it about 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are cancer-causing. But cancer isn’t the only risk. Exposure to these toxic chemicals can also leads to coronary heart disease and stroke. And for kids, the risks include sudden infant death, respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma attacks.  

Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks posed by secondhand smoke.

Given the severity, we might assume those devastating health problems can only occur after years of exposure. In fact, the opposite is true. Secondhand smoke can have an immediate effect on your health. Those with asthma are especially vulnerable. Low levels of exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger an attack. And for kids, it’s more acute. Children with asthma who are around secondhand smoke have more severe and frequent asthma attacks, which can put a child’s life in danger.

Are there laws protecting us? Yes. Many cities have outlawed indoor smoking in residential buildings. The problem is that these laws are not enforced equally across all communities, reports show. As a result, too many people who made the choice to live tobacco-free lives are suffering the devastating health effects of smoking.

There are tools for tenants who want to advocate for a smoke-free building. 

There are tools for tenants who want to advocate for a smoke-free building. 

Rally your neighbors and talk to your landlord or management company about adopting a smoke-free building policy. Need help? Download a free toolkit at for info on state laws, legal actions, and sample letters to building owners and managers.

We all have the right to protect ourselves, and our families, no matter where we live. To do so, we have to speak up and demand action. When it comes to ensuring the health and safety of all Californians, the more voices heard, the more lives saved.

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