Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Understanding Our Environment is Key to Promoting Health and Preventing Disease

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Public Smoking Bans

Public Smoking Bans

Hazards of Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke (Figure 1) contains over 7000 chemicals, including 50 known carcinogens.1 Exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with a number of adverse effects (Figure 2).2 People exposed regularly to secondhand smoke have a greater risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, and breathing problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma.3

Adults with pre-existing heart or lung disease, children, infants, and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke. Pregnant women who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to miscarry or have low-birth-weight babies. Infants who breathe secondhand smoke have a greater chance of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children exposed to secondhand smoke risk developing bronchitis and pneumonia. They also get more ear infections and suffer more from chronic coughing and wheezing.4

History of Smoking Bans
Restrictions on tobacco use in public spaces have existed in Canada since the start of the 20th century (Figure 3). Initially, these restrictions were voluntary and aimed at preventing fires in industrial areas.5 When tobacco was first identified as harmful to smokers, the public view was that each smoker had made a personal choice and only the smoker would experience any adverse health effects. As the negative effects of secondhand smoke were identified, the public view of smoking began to change and public health interventions followed. Soon efforts shifted to protecting vulnerable groups, including children and people with significant exposure to secondhand smoke, such as workers in the food and beverage industry.

As the perception of smoking changed in Canada over several decades, legislation to ban public smoking was enacted incrementally. This was frustrating for many public health officials, who knew tobacco was a leading—and preventable—cause of death and disability. Despite the slow pace of change, support began to build for completely smoke-free environments and more policymakers recognized that laws banning smoking were needed to send a clear message that tobacco is harmful and to reduce the number of adults children and youth see smoking.6

A range of strategies implemented by various groups and levels of government were successful and continue to limit tobacco use in Canada. Interventions include public education and mass media campaigns, advertising regulations, tobacco product packaging, and taxation policies.

As the Tobacco Story in Canada illustrates, multiple factors, initiatives, and events have influenced tobacco policy and will continue to do so.7 Public smoking bans are just one aspect of tobacco control. Today, public health campaigns are expanding to protect Canadians in what many might consider private spaces: their vehicles and homes.