Smoke-free environments

Information about secondhand smoke, smoke-free housing, and other smoke-free environments.

Secondhand smoke is a health hazard. Eliminating smoking in both indoor spaces and outdoor areas is the best way to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. We can help.

The Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program and the Health Resources in Action Smoke-Free Families Initiative work in coordination with the Massachusetts Smoke-Free Housing Project, an initiative of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, to provide support to residents, landlords, and condominium owners and associations to understand the benefits and challenges of making homes and other environments 100% smoke-free.

If you have questions about going smoke-free or dealing with secondhand smoke exposure in the home, please see the additional resources or call the Smoke-Free Housing Project toll-free hotline: (877) 830-8795.

Report a smoke-free workplace, smoke-free housing, or other tobacco violation.

Table of Contents

Secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke is a health hazard. Secondhand smoke comes from a burning tobacco product such as a cigarette or the smoke someone is exhaling. It contains over 7,000 chemicals and poisons, and at least 70 of these are known to cause cancer. When you breathe secondhand smoke, you inhale the same chemicals as the person who is smoking. 

The 2006 Surgeon General’s Report on secondhand smoke concludes that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. 

Secondhand smoke exposes people and pets to many risks. In adults, it can cause asthma, stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and poor blood circulation. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke causes more common coughs, colds, problems with asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis in children. It is also especially harmful to pregnant women and to fetal development.  

Secondhand smoke can also cause health issues in pets. Pets that live with smokers are more likely to experience symptoms of respiratory disease, like asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer than pets that live in smoke-free homes. 

Preliminary research also shows that exposure to secondhand aerosol from vapes/e-cigarettes is not without harm. The aerosol that e-cigarette users breathe from the device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including nicotine, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, certain flavorings, volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead​​. In one recent study, “secondhand nicotine vape exposure was associated with increased risk of bronchitic symptoms and shortness of breath among young adults.” 

Eliminating smoking and vaping in both indoor spaces and outdoor areas is the best way to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and aerosol.

Systemic racism’s impact on secondhand smoke

Housing is one environmental condition that contributes to an individual’s health status. Historically, housing patterns in Massachusetts have been linked to practices such as segregation and racial redlining that resulted in the systematic divestment of resources, such as education, employment, and health care away from communities of color. These practices have historically, and continue to, contribute to poor housing conditions that have been linked to health risk behaviors, such as smoking and tobacco use, as well as exposure to harmful elements such as secondhand smoke.  

Where do people live and why? 

Segregation and racial redlining have determined where people of color can live. A lack of affordable housing may limit people’s choices in where they can live in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, those who are Black, Hispanic, low-income, have less education, have MassHealth insurance, have a disability or identify as LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) are more likely to report living in multi-unit housing. 

Many of these same populations who live in multi-unit housing also report more exposure to secondhand smoke at home. Communities of color and low-income populations are more likely to rent their homes. Renters may lack control over their housing environment, including differential quality and exposure to hazards, such as environmental smoke. 

More information and data on exposure to secondhand smoke in Massachusetts. 

Smoke-free housing

Because of the dangers of secondhand smoke, more and more residents are demanding smoke-free environments in apartment buildings, condominiums, and other housing to protect their own health and the health of their families. Many landlords, condominiums and management companies are taking the initiative to enact smoke-free policies in their buildings. 

In April 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (now known as the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities) issued guidance to state-funded Housing Authorities on implementing a smoke-free policy. On February 3, 2017 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a nationwide final rule that all HUD-funded Public Housing Authorities must implement a smoke-free policy by July 31, 2018. 

It is important to remember that a smoke-free housing policy only prohibits smoking in the building or on the property. It does not prohibit people who smoke from living in the building. 

To report a smoke-free policy violation in your building, contact your landlord or, in the case of a condominium, the condominium trustees. For questions regarding your rights when exposed to secondhand smoke in the home, contact the Smoke-Free Housing Project toll-free hotline: (877) 830-8795. Violations of the smoke-free workplace law may be reported here.  

Other smoke-free environments


Massachusetts has required all worksites to be smoke-free since 2004.  

More information about smoke-free workplaces is included in Laying a Solid Foundation: Tobacco Laws Pertaining to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, updated 2021. 

Beaches, playgrounds, and parks 

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation “prohibits smoking in or on any DCR buildings, structures, or in designated swimming, wading, or spray pool areas, or where posted as prohibited.” 

Local cities and towns may have their own regulations related to smoke-free recreation areas. Contact your local Board of Health for more information. 

Public and Private High Schools 

General Rule: The Smoke-Free Workplace Law prohibits smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including public and private schools. In addition, Massachusetts requires that all public schools through high school prohibit the use of tobacco products of any kind, including smokeless tobacco, on school grounds, on school buses, in school buildings, and at school-sponsored events. The law is commonly referred to as the “Education Reform Act.” M.G.L. c. 270 §22(b) (2); M.G.L. c. 71 §§2A, 37H. 

College campuses 

General Rule: The Smoke-Free Workplace Law exempts dormitory rooms because they are considered residences. M.G.L. c. 270, §22(a). However, it does prohibit smoking in non-residential portions of dormitories, including, common areas, staircases, and restrooms. M.G.L. c. 270, §22(b) (2). In addition, Massachusetts requires that public (as opposed to private) colleges and universities allot an adequate number of nonsmoking rooms in their dormitories for students who prefer a smoke-free room. M.G.L. c. 15A, §27.  

Nearly all colleges and universities in Massachusetts have exceeded this rule and have adopted smoke-free campuses, including for example, all University of Massachusetts campuses, Northeastern University, and Bridgewater State. 

Resources to help establish a tobacco-free campus are available from the following organizations: 

The American Cancer Society Tobacco Free Campus Toolkit 

American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation 

Family childcare 

General Rule: The Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace Law prohibits smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including childcare centers. M.G.L. c.270 §22(b) (2). In addition, Massachusetts prohibits smoking in all childcare centers during hours of operation, including private residences when used as childcare centers. 606 CMR 7.11. A childcare center is defined as any regularly operated facility that receives children not of common parentage, under the age of seven years or under the age of sixteen years if the child has special needs. Childcare facilities do not include informal arrangements among neighbors or relatives. M.G.L. c.15D §1A, 606 CMR 7.02. The federal government prohibits smoking in any facility for early childhood development services (such as Head Start) if the facility accepts certain federal funding or yields certain control to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. 20 U.S.C. 6083. 

Family childcare homes 

General Rule: Massachusetts prohibits caregivers from smoking on the childcare premises during childcare hours. M.G.L. c.270 §22. A family childcare home is defined as temporary custody and care provided in a private residence. 606 CMR 7.02. It does not include informal babysitting arrangements amongst neighbors or relatives. M.G.L. c.15D §1A. 

How to report a smoke-free workplace violation 

To report a violation of the no smoking rule in your building talk to your landlord or building manager. For information about your legal rights, call the Smoke-free Housing Project toll-free hotline: (877) 830-8795. 

You can report a smoke-free workplace or other tobacco law violation via phone, in writing, or email. 

Additional resources

Help Us Improve  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.