Clearing the Air

Strengthening smoke-free protections makes our communities healthier

The Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, passed by the state legislature in 2006, was a big step forward for smoke-free and healthy communities. Within nine years of when the public smoking restrictions took effect, the number of adult smokers in Colorado dropped by nearly 100,000.1

In 2019, Colorado updated the law to address vaping, which, whether inside or outside, can impact people nearby. In addition to prohibiting vaping in most public indoor settings, the updated law removed exemptions for hotels and small businesses. It also increased the distance from building entrances where people can smoke or vape from 15 feet to 25 feet. 

But the law still doesn’t completely protect Coloradans. It exempts smoking in outdoor places where people gather, like some restaurant patios, sidewalks, concert venues and parks and trails. 

What’s the problem?

Coloradans are still exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke in public places. Even outside, exposure to secondhand smoke and vapor could be bad for nonsmokers’ health.

Studies show outdoor secondhand smoke levels can be equal to or greater than indoor secondhand smoke when smoking is occurring closeby.2

To completely avoid exposing others to secondhand smoke in an outdoor area, a person who is smoking may have to move as far as 25 feet from others — which is not always possible in public places or on the job.3

Secondhand smoke can cause a number of health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As in adults, it can cause coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.4 There is conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarette products contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.5

What is the solution?

Passing smoke-free policies is an important step in creating healthy environments. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking in homes, worksites and public places.6

As an added bonus, smoke-free environments help encourage tobacco users to smoke less or even quit.7

Additionally, studies consistently show that youth and young adults who live in communities with strong smoke-free protections are less likely to smoke.8

What about vaping?

Contrary to some claims, the clouds from vaping devices are not “harmless water vapor”.9

Inhaling secondhand vapor may expose bystanders to harmful chemicals. In 2019, the Colorado state legislature took a stand against vaping and updated the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act to prohibit vaping in public settings where smoking is banned.

1. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2005 and 2014. Colorado Department of Local Affairs, State Demography Office, Population Estimates, 2005 and 2014.
2. Klepeis NE, Ott WR, Switzer P. (2007) Real-time Measurement of Outdoor Tobacco Smoke Particles. Journal of Air Waste Manag Assoc. 2007; May; 57 (5): 522-34
3. Repace, J. L. (2008). Benefits of Smoke Free Regulations in Outdoor Settings: Beaches, Golf Courses, Parks, Patios, and in Motor Vehicles, William Mitchell Law Review, 34(4), 1621-1638.
4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Let’s Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free: Your Guide to the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. [PDF–795 KB] Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2016 Jan 11].
5. Public Consequences of E-Cigarettes. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. January 2018.
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014. Printed with corrections, January 2014.
7. Guide to Community Preventive Services. Tobacco Use and Secondhand Smoke Exposure: Smoke-Free Policies.Page updated January 30, 2017 accessed at
8. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. (2009). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Smoke Free Policies. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 13. Retrieved from
9. Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems. Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes.