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58 Million Nonsmokers Still Exposed to Secondhand Smoke


Although secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure in the United States dropped by half between 1999 to 2000 and 2011 to 2012, one in four nonsmokers -- 58 million people -- are still exposed to SHS, according to a new report from the CDC. No level of secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure is safe. SHS exposure occurs when nonsmokers breathe in smoke exhaled by smokers or from burning tobacco products. It kills more than 400 infants and 41,000 adult nonsmokers every year.

 

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that declines in exposure to SHS have been slower and exposure remains higher among children, blacks, those who live in poverty, and those who live in rental housing. The report finds two in every five children aged three to 11 years are still exposed to SHS. The study assessed exposure using cotinine, a marker of SHS found in the blood.

 

“Secondhand smoke can kill. Too many Americans, and especially too many American children, are still exposed to it,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “That 40 percent of children -- including seven in 10 black children -- are still exposed shows how much more we have to do to protect everyone from this preventable health hazard.”

 

Tobacco smoke harms babies, even before they are born. It harms children, too, because their lungs and bodies are still growing. One in every five babies born to mothers who smoke has low birth weight. Low birth weight is a leading cause of infant death. Babies who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to die unexpectedly from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death. Babies and children who breathe secondhand smoke are sick more often with bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections. For children with asthma, breathing secondhand smoke can trigger an attack. The attack can be severe enough to send a child to the hospital. Sometimes an asthma attack is so severe that a child dies.

 

Additional key findings in the report include:

 

  • Nearly half of black nonsmokers are exposed to SHS.
  • More than two in five nonsmokers who live below the poverty level are exposed to SHS.
  • More than one in three nonsmokers who live in rental housing is exposed to SHS.

 

The study used rental status as a way of identifying people who live in multiunit housing, which is an environment where the issue of SHS 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,” said Brian King, Ph.D., acting deputy director for research translation in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “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.”

 

Smoking in another room like a bathroom or bedroom pollutes all the air in your home. In an apartment, smoke in one room can go through the whole building. Smoking outside in a hall or stairwell does not protect people inside. Smoke goes under doors, windows, and through cracks. To protect the people inside, homes and apartment buildings must be smoke-free. No amount of secondhand smoke is safe. Even when you cannot smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm you or your child. Opening a window or using a fan does not protect anyone. Air purifiers and air fresheners do not remove smoke’s poisons. Smoke from one cigarette can stay in a room for hours.

 

The report credits the overall decline in SHS exposure to several factors. To date, 26 states, the District of Columbia, and almost 700 cities have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws prohibiting smoking in worksites, restaurants, and bars. These state and local laws currently cover almost half the US population. In addition, a growing number of households have adopted voluntary smoke-free home rules, increasing from 43 percent in 1992-1993 to 83 percent in 2010-2011. Also, cigarette smoking has declined significantly in the last two decades and smoking around nonsmokers has become much less socially acceptable.

 

The Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to SHS, which contains over 7,000 chemicals including about 70 that can cause cancer. It is a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children, as well as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adult nonsmokers. Each year exposure to SHS 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. Exposure to SHS among US nonsmokers has declined, but progress has not been the same for everyone.

 

See the CDC Announcement

 

See the CDC Report

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, December 2013 Report: Thicker Than Water: Liability When Blood Clots Cause Injury or Death

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2013 Report: Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Attacks: Liability Issues

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2013 Report: Brain Aneurysm and Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: Failure to Diagnose, Delayed Diagnosis, Misdiagnosis

 

See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2012 Report: Mistakes in Diagnosing Cancer: Liability Concerns for Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Delayed Diagnosis

 

 

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