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Health News

Secondhand Smoke: 1 in 4 Americans Still Exposed

by Leslie Pepper  

After decades of decline, progress has stalled when it comes to reducing Americans’ exposure to secondhand smoke, according to an analysis of new data from 2013 and 2014 released by the CDC in December 2018. It found that one in four U.S. nonsmokers—or 58 million people—were still exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, mainly from cigarettes, during 2013–2014. Rates of exposure were highest among children ages 3 to 11 (38 percent), people living in poverty (48 percent), and people living in rental housing (39 percent), according to the report.

Racial disparities also persist, with half of black nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke—including two-thirds of black children. The data came from the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES.

Secondhand smoke exposure declined substantially in the U.S. in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, falling from almost 90 percent of nonsmokers to 25 percent by 2011, thanks largely to the adoption of comprehensive smoke-free laws at the state and local levels during that period. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia now have such laws. But the adoption of smoke-free laws slowed between 2011 and 2014, which the report authors said could help explain why the rate of exposure to secondhand smoke stayed stagnant during that period.

On a brighter note, the report points to an uptick in local smoke-free laws since the period studied, with almost 200 communities adopting such laws between 2015 and 2017. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development established a rule requiring all public housing to have smoke-free policies in place by July 2018. These advancements could be reflected in future surveys, the authors noted.

Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including about 70 that can cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure. According to the Surgeon General, inhaling secondhand smoke is responsible for over 41,000 deaths from lung cancer and heart disease every year, as well as 400 deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

For more information on secondhand smoke, go to the CDC's tobacco page. For free help to quit smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Also see Risks of Secondhand Marijuana Smoke.