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Frequently Asked Questions for the General Public

What is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand smoke is the smoke a smoker blows into the air and the smoke that drifts into the air from the burning end of a cigarette. There are more than 4 000 chemicals in second-hand smoke, more than 43 of these are known to cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

How does second-hand smoke harm your health?

In adults, exposure to second-hand smoke causes:

  • heart disease
  • lung cancer
  • nasal sinus cancer

In children, exposure to second-hand smoke causes:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib death
  • low birth weight
  • pneumonia and bronchitis
  • ear infections

Exposure to second-hand smoke puts children at greater risk of developing asthma. Children with asthma who are exposed to second-hand smoke have more attacks and the attacks are more severe.

Why is there a Smoke-Free By-law?

The by-law was adopted after extensive public consultations and is intended to protect residents and workers within Durham Region from the serious health hazards associated with exposure to second-hand smoke.

When does the by-law come into effect?

Durham Region's Smoke-Free By-law comes into effect on June 1, 2004.

What does the by-law say?

As of June 1, 2004, all public places* and workplaces must be 100% smoke-free.

Public Places

A public place is any indoor area to which the public has access and includes (but is not limited to):

  • eating establishments (restaurants, cafeterias, food courts and coffee shops)
  • bars, pubs, billiard halls, bowling alleys and video arcades
  • recreational facilities, including arenas, swimming pools, theatres and auditoriums
  • municipal buildings, including community centres and libraries
  • public transport vehicles, including buses, taxis and limousines
  • schools, hospitals, health care facilities, nursing homes and retirement homes


A workplace is any enclosed, indoor area where an employee works.

This includes all common areas such as:

  • washrooms
  • lobbies
  • parking garages

*Bingo halls, racetracks and casinos are permitted to have a designated smoking room.

What about a smoker's right to smoke?

First and foremost, this is a health issue. Breathing second-hand smoke is a proven and serious health hazard. The health of everyone, including workers, needs to be protected in public places and workplaces.

Won't a Smoke-Free By-law hurt restaurants and bars?

Numerous independent studies have shown that when smoking is restricted or prohibited in bars and restaurants, they don't lose business. There may be an initial adjustment period, after which businesses return to their usual level of sale. Many even increase sales.

There is strong community support for more smoke-free public places. For example, a recent Health Department survey shows that 83% of Durham Region residents support a by-law making restaurants 100% smoke-free. (Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2003).

Is ventilation an effective way to remove tobacco smoke from the air?

Since there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, an adequate ventilation system would have to remove all tobacco smoke from the air. Currently, there is no ventilation system that is capable of removing all tobacco smoke from the air. Therefore, ventilation may dilute tobacco smoke, but it will not eliminate the health risk.

Are designated smoking rooms allowed?

Bingo halls, racetracks and casinos are permitted to have a designated smoking room.

What is a designated smoking room (DSR)?

A Designated Smoking Room (DSR) is a room where smoking is permitted. The DSR must be:

  • completely enclosed on all sides and not required by any person for a thoroughfare.
  • equipped with a separate ventilation system that maintains a minimum ventilation rate of 30 litres per second per person, based on maximum occupancy load, that is ventilated directly to the outside air and exhausted at a rate of at least 110% of supply, with any exhaust no less than 3 metres from any air intake or building opening.
  • no greater than 50% of the occupiable public space within the building.
  • approved by an inspector appointed by the Medical Officer of Health.

Are there any exemptions to the by-law?

A private club may allow smoking if it has no employees and if the general public is not allowed in the facility. The private club must therefore be for members only and have volunteer members serving them in order to allow smoking. Any facility that is a private club and rents or otherwise invites the public to its premises for a function must comply with the by-law and therefore not permit smoking while the general non-member public is on the premises.

Is smoking permitted on outdoor patios at restaurants and bars?

Yes, as long as the outdoor patio is not enclosed. That is, not closed in by a roof or ceiling and walls.

What will owners/employers do to comply with the by-law?

The owner or person in charge of a business is responsible for:

  • preventing patrons and employees from smoking in prohibited areas.
  • posting No Smoking signs in plain sight.
  • removing all ashtrays from prohibited areas.
  • preventing patrons and employees from placing ashtrays in prohibited areas.

How can an establishment deal with patrons who refuse to comply with the by-law as of June 1, 2004?

Most people will comply with the by-law once they become aware of it. Others may need an explanation of the by-law before they co-operate. However, a few patrons may continue to smoke or refuse to go outside. The following tips may be useful to encourage compliance with the by-law. The owner may choose to:

  • explain that Durham Region’s Smoke-Free By-law prohibits smoking inside.
  • politely and calmly request that the person put out the cigarette or go outside to smoke.
  • discontinue service or ask the person to leave.
  • in the event of a refusal to comply, contact police at 905-579-1520 or 1-888-579-1520 and request assistance to have patron removed;
    report the incident to Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Health Division at 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613 ext. 2188.

Who enforces the by-law?

Staff from Durham Region Health Department will enforce the by-law through ongoing inspections and in response to complaints from owners, employers, employees or the general public. Durham Regional Police also have the authority to enforce the by-law to keep the peace.

Who is charged for not complying with the by-law?

Patrons/employees will be fined for smoking in a premise that is clearly identified with No Smoking signs.

Owners/employers will be prosecuted for non-compliance with the by-law if they do not have the proper signs posted at each entrance to the building, or if they or their staff provide ashtrays for their patrons/employees. In cases where the owner/employer is not prohibiting smoking by patrons/employees, the owner and/ or staff will be charged.

What are the fines for non-compliance with the by-law?

Anyone who smokes in a prohibited place is guilty of an offence and is subject to a fine up to $5000.

What should I do if I see smoking in a public place or workplace as of June 1, 2004?

As of June 1, 2004, call Durham Region Health Department Environmental Help Line at 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613 ext. 2188.

Complaints will be investigated by enforcement officers.

How can I get more information?

If you require:

  • an official copy of The Regional Municipality of Durham's Smoke-Free By-law (No. 66-2002)
  • information about how to quit smoking

Contact Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Health Division at 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613 ext. 2188. or visit us online at Smoke-Free Living