Nearly half of Americans who don't allow smoking in their apartments are still exposed to secondhand smoke that wafts in from other rooms, federal researchers report Dec. 14.(Photo: Karen Bleier, Getty Images)
Nearly 29 million Americans who say they don't smoke in their
apartments may still be exposed to secondhand smoke that wafts in from
elsewhere in the building, federal researchers report today.
smoke can cause disease and premature death in non-smokers; it
potentially affects about 44 million Americans who live in multi-unit
housing each year, including 27.6 million to 28.9 million with
smoke-free apartments or condos, according to the study by researchers
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"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. He says even the finest ventilation
systems don't protect apartment dwellers, who are "involuntary exposed
to secondhand smoke."
Many aren't aware of it, he says, and if
they are, the extent may be "significant," he says, adding building-wide
smoking bans are the only real solution.
While the number of
smoke-free laws nationwide has surged in the last decade, most apply to
public spaces such as workplaces, restaurants, bars and parks. Very few
cover multi-unit housing.
Yet more landlords and public housing
authorities are adopting smoke-free policies to lower fire risks and
cleaning costs as well as to meet consumer demand. Surveys show most
Americans, 80% of whom don't smoke, favor smoke-free housing, but some
condo owners have objected to their buildings' adopting smoking bans
after they bought their property.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal, says
Census data taken between 2006 and 2009 indicate that one-quarter of
Americans -- or 79.2 million -- live in multi-unit housing and about
62.7 million of them don't smoke in their apartments. That means 16.5
The CDC researchers combine that data with the
findings of two prior peer-reviewed studies, conducted from 2007 through
2010, that found 44% to 46.2% of apartment dwellers said they were
exposed to secondhand smoke in their living space during the last year.
is the first research to estimate how many Americans are at risk from
secondhand smoke because they live in apartments, says Tom Glynn,
director of cancer science and trends at the American Cancer Society. He
notes that one-third of them, about 26 million, are either children or
seniors over 65 -- two groups especially likely to become sick from
"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 says,
adding such exposure also sickens millions of people by causing
bronchitis and ear infections.
The CDC authors, led by Brian King,
caution that their findings have limits, noting the data used are the
most recent available on the topic but are still several years old. They
say more Americans may now live in apartment buildings that ban
smoking. McAfee says he expects such bans, now relatively rare, will
A CDC study released last month found that
ventilation at five major U.S. airports with designated smoking areas
does not protect passengers from secondhand smoke. It found that
pollution levels near (within a meter or 39 inches) smoking areas are
five times higher than levels at airports that entirely ban smoking.
Levels inside smoking areas, including bars and restaurants, were 23
times higher than at smoke-free airports.