Secondhand Smoke Rates Decline Overall, but Risks Remain High for Some
Despite an overall decline in secondhand smoke exposure, a breakdown of recently reported data showed some populations were still being affected more than others by secondhand smoke. Exposure remained high among children, blacks, those living in poverty and those who rent their house.
One of the biggest health concerns surrounding cigarettes is secondhand smoke. No amount of secondhand smoke is safe. It has been shown to cause coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. In children, secondhand smoke can cause severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome.
Data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the latest numbers on secondhand smoke exposure. The good news is that secondhand smoke exposure is on the decline, thanks in large part to widespread public health awareness campaigns. In 2000, 53 percent of Americans were exposed. By 2012, that number had dropped to just over 25 percent. As a whole, these declining numbers appear promising.
But these findings highlight the persisting issue of health disparities in certain populations. Past studies have shown that blacks start smoking later in life and smoke less than whites, but suffer from higher rates of smoking-related illness.
The findings also suggest that this disparity may be partly a result of a person’s physical environment. For example, those living in poverty have been shown to be at increased risk for lost years of health. Other factors like secondhand smoke could also contribute to this problem.
According to another recent study, those living on an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (that means a family of four making less than $48,000 a year) lost more than eight healthy years of life. This loss of health was attributed to a variety of factors, including chronic stress, poor diet and limited opportunities for exercise, as well as secondhand smoke exposure. While secondhand smoke was not the only factor causing these disparities, these findings highlight the need to approach this problem from several angles, which includes developing population-wide policies to promote health.
What more can cities and states do to curb secondhand smoke exposure for these at-risk populations, especially blacks and those living in poverty? Although 24 states have adopted legislation mandating smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and bars, there are still 26 states that have limited or non-existent regulations. If enacted nationwide, these policies can shift the default to a smoke-free environment, meaning that bystanders are not getting sick from invisible toxins caused by the tobacco smoke of others. Additionally, these policies shift social norms, making smoking unattractive and against the status quo.
For more information read our related blog on states’ comprehensive smoke-free policies.
Margaret Raskob, MPH
Margaret Raskob is a freelance blogger for CASAColumbia