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Report: Secondhand smoke exposure down, but still deadly

A report issued this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke has been cut in half since 2000, but thousands of nonsmokers continue to die each year from complications from inhaling smoke.

Over the past 25 years, nearly 700 local municipalities and 26 states have prohibited smoking in worksites, bars and restaurants, a major contributing factor to the overall drop in secondhand smoke exposure (defined as a specific level of the nicotine byproduct cotinine in the blood), the study states.

Yet the problem persists. According to the report:

  • 58 million people are exposed each year, or 1/4 of all nonsmokers in the U.S.
  • 15 million children are included in that group
  • 41,000 adult nonsmokers die annually from exposure
  • 400 infants die annually from exposure
  • $5.6 billion is lost in productivity due to exposure each year

Health risks include sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems and asthma attacks in children and infants and heart disease, stroke and lung cancer in adults.

The decline in exposure has not been even for all groups. For example, younger Americans tend to have the highest rates:

Additionally, the report found disparities among racial and ethnic groups:

Rates were higher among lower socioeconomic groups and among those who rent their home as opposed to owning. In both cases, this is partly due to the fact that these groups of people tend to live in multiunit residences, where secondhand smoke can infiltrate nonsmokers’ homes from homes and shared areas where smoking occurs:

Note: Years refer to two-year periods (2000=1999-2000; 2004=2003-2004, etc.)