Apartment Dwellers Not Protected From Secondhand Smoke

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that nearly 29 million Americans who say they don’t smoke in their apartments could still be exposed to secondhand smoke coming from other parts of the building.

According to the CDC team, secondhand smoke can cause disease and premature death in non-smokers. Secondhand smoke potentially affects about 44 million Americans living in multi-unit housing each year. This includes 27.6 million to 28.9 million with smoke-free apartments or condos. As one might expect, this number varies from state to state. Approximately 27,000 residents of Wyoming have been exposed due to multi-unit housing, in contrast to the almost 5 million apartment dwellers exposed in California.

“It’s a big deal. … There’s air seepage between one unit and another,” through insulation, cracks and power outlets, says Tim McAfee, director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. Even the finest ventilation systems don’t protect apartment dwellers, McAffee told USA Today, who are “involuntary exposed to secondhand smoke.”

Many who are affected this way aren’t aware of it, says McAfee. The extent may be significant as well. McAfee says the only real solution is building wide smoking bans.

“A quarter of all Americans live in some form of multi-unit housing, and these individuals and families are potentially exposed to secondhand smoke that enters their home from somewhere else,” according to McAfee.

“There had been individual studies done looking at effects of secondhand smoke in apartments, but this is the first time that we had tried to figure out how it all hangs together nationally,” he added.

Smoke-free laws have been enacted across the nation in the last decade, but most of them apply to public spaces such as work places, restaurants, bars and parks. Very few states or municipalities have enacted smoking laws to cover multi-unit housing.

Landlords and public housing authorities in many areas, however, are adopting smoke-free policies. Such policies lower fire risks and cleaning costs for the owners, as well as meet rising consumer demands for smoke-free living environments. According to HealthDay reporter Steven Reinberg, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging smoke-free public housing around the country.

Recent surveys have shown that 80% of Americans don’t smoke and most favor smoke-free housing. Some condo owners, however, have raised objections to smoking bans in their buildings after they bought their property.

One-quarter of Americans — 79.2 million — live in multi-unit housing, according to Census data accumulated between 2006 and 2009. Out of these, about 62.7 million of them don’t smoke in their apartments, however, the remaining 16.5 million do. The number of people living in apartments varies by state as well; West Virginia boasts only 10% of their population in apartments while almost 52% of New York citizens are apartment dwellers.

The CDC team combined their data with two previously peer-reviewed studies conducted between 2007 and 2010. The earlier studies found that 44% to 46.2% of apartment residents said they were exposed to secondhand smoke in their living space during the last year.

Tom Glynn, director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society, says this is the first study to estimate how many Americans are at risk from secondhand smoke because they live in multi-unit housing. Glynn notes that of those at risk, one-third (26 million) are either children or seniors over 65. Both are groups that are particularly vulnerable to illnesses caused by secondhand smoke.

“We already know that more than 43,000 nonsmokers in the USA die every year — primarily from lung cancer and heart disease — due to their exposure to secondhand smoke,” Glynn told USA Today. He adds that exposure to secondhand smoke also sickens millions of people by causing bronchitis and ear infections. The American Cancer Society says that secondhand smoke has been linked to cancers of the voice box and throat, brain, bladder, rectum, stomach and breast, as well as childhood leukemia.

Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, advocates making apartment buildings smoke-free.

“While the majority of multi-unit housing residents make their homes smoke-free, nearly half of them are affected by infiltration of smoke from other residents,” he told HealthDay. “Owners of multi-unit housing can protect their tenants from the harms of secondhand smoke and save on maintenance and insurance costs by making their properties smoke-free.”

Brian King, who led the CDC research team, cautions that the findings of their study have limits. He notes that the data used are the most recent available, but are still several years old. More Americans may now live in apartment buildings that ban smoking. McAffee commented that such bans may be rare now, but he expects them to gain in popularity.

A related CDC study released last month found that ventilation at five major U.S. airports that have designated smoking areas does not protect non-smoking passengers from secondhand smoke. The pollution levels near — within 39 inches — smoking areas are five times higher than levels at airports that ban smoking entirely. The levels of secondhand smoke inside the smoking areas, including bars and restaurants, were 23 times higher than at airports with full smoking bans.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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