Smoking in Public Places and Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that includes smoke from a burning product such as cigarettes, hookah or marijuana, or smoke that has been exhaled from a person who is smoking.

Non-smokers who breathe secondhand smoke inhale the same toxic chemicals as the smoker. The more smoke you breathe, the more harmful chemicals you will inhale. There is no risk-free level of exposure.

Secondhand smoke from cigarettes can cause or worsen many diseases, including pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, and heart disease. Those who are exposed to high levels of smoke on a long-term basis are likely to develop chronic, potentially fatal diseases. Even brief exposure can cause health problems such as headaches, stuffy nose, irritation of the sinuses and eyes, coughing and can also trigger other breathing or heart problems.

The Law
The following laws protect Pierce County residents, including workers in their places of employment.
  • The Smoking in Public Places Act (formerly the Washington Clean Indoor Air Act- Chapter 70.160 RCW) was approved by Washington State voters in 2005.
  • Smoking in Public Places Regulations (Chapter 8 of the Environmental Health Code) - adopted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health in 2011.

State law and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department regulations prohibit smoking in indoor public places and places of employment with “any kind of lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette, hookah, or any other lighted smoking equipment” including, but not limited to tobacco, shisha or marijuana.

  • Cigarettes. Secondhand smoke in cigarettes contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer.
  • Cigars. Cigars contain many of the same toxins and cancer-causing agents as cigarettes. They have more tobacco than cigarettes and release greater amounts of secondhand smoke.
  • Hookah. Shisha, a flavored tobacco product used in hookahs, contains the same dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes. Additionally, the hookah heat source (e.g., charcoal) produces smoke that poses additional risks.
  • Marijuana. Marijuana smoke contains toxic materials and may have health impacts. In 2012, Washington State voters approved Initiative 502, which allows the recreational use of marijuana in private places. Marijuana use is not permitted in public places, places of employment, or in view of the general public.

What about Electronic Cigarettes (E-cigarettes)?
The federal government does not regulate electronic cigarettes. This means that there are no required standards, restrictions or labeling for what they contain. Without oversight, manufacturers can put anything in them, including hazardous substances. Scientific research shows that we should be concerned because these products can be harmful to people, especially youth. We are still learning about the negative health effects of the secondhand smoke generated from e-cigarettes.

In Pierce County and in Washington State, youth under 18 are not allowed to buy or possess e-cigarettes or other vapor products. In Pierce County, adults are not allowed to use e-cigarettes in public except in places where youth are not allowed, such as bars, casinos and adult-only worksites.

For more information about e-cigarette regulations in Pierce County click here

The Health Department has the authority to enforce state and local regulations that prohibit smoking in public places and places of employment. Businesses that allow smoking are subject to civil penalties, re-inspection fees, and may face additional legal action. Enforcement measures are described in The Health Department’s Smoking in Public Places regulations.

Business licenses will not be issued by Pierce County or its cities and towns for any types of smoking lounges, such as cigar lounges, hookah bars or marijuana cafes.

Because of funding cuts, we are no longer able to respond to all complaints of smoking in public places. Businesses that allow smoking are still subject to civil penalties, re-inspection fees and may face additional legal action. For more information, contact Miae Aramori, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator at (253) 376-7362.

Smoke-Free Housing and Outdoor Environments
Learn about smoke-free housing efforts in Pierce County and apartment complexes that prohibit smoking.

Learn more about the Health Department’s efforts to support the development of smoke-free parks and college campuses.

Health Department Contacts

Business owners can receive a free resource kit with “No Smoking” signs and copies of smoking in public places regulations. Please call (253) 798-2887.

For general questions about smoking in public places and worksites in Pierce County, please call Miae Aramori at (253) 376-7362 or

For specific questions regarding hookah or marijuana use in Pierce County as they relate to smoking in public places or worksites, please contact Kirsten Frandsen, at (253) 798-3540 or

Resources and Related Documents