Secondhand Smoke Exposure Remains High in Rental Housing

One in four nonsmokers—58 million people—are still exposed to the dangerous chemicals in secondhand smoke, even though cigarette-smoking rates have dropped and smoking in public places has been banned in many states, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study found that exposure remains high among children, blacks, those who live in poverty, and those who live in rental housing. Two in every five children ages 3 to 11 years—including seven in 10 black children—are exposed, as are nearly half of black nonsmokers. More than two in five nonsmokers who live below the poverty level are exposed to secondhand smoke.

More than one in three people who live in rental housing are exposed to secondhand smoke. The study used rental status as a way of identifying people who live in multiunit housing, which is an environment where the issue of secondhand smoke exposure is of particular concern.

“About 80 million Americans live in multiunit housing, where secondhand smoke can seep into smoke-free units and shared areas from units where smoking occurs,” Brian King, Ph.D., acting deputy director for research translation in CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said in a statement. “The potential of exposure in subsidized housing is especially concerning because many of the residents—including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities—are particularly sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke.”

The Surgeon General has indicated that making indoor spaces smoke-free is the only way to provide nonsmokers with complete protection from secondhand smoke. Limiting smoking to specific rooms, opening a window, or using air fresheners or fans is not enough to fully protect individuals in the home, including those who live in multiunit housing such as apartments, condos, and government-funded housing.

Many people who live in public housing are especially affected by secondhand smoke, including the elderly, children, and people with disabilities. A few cities have passed laws restricting smoking in multiunit housing and several hundred housing authorities have adopted smoke-free policies. In buildings without restrictions, smoke from common areas or other units where smoking occurs can seep into smoke-free units.

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen—an agent that’s known to cause cancer in humans—and the Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Each year, secondhand smoke exposure causes more than 41,000 deaths from lung cancer and heart disease among non-smoking adults and 400 deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, as well as about $5.6 billion annually in lost productivity.

Source: CDC