Exposure to and inhalation of secondhand smoke continue to be a significant problem throughout the United States, with cases of secondhand smoking–related illness and morbidity higher in juvenile and African American populations, among others, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing.

“Secondhand smoke is a Class A carcinogen [and] the Surgeon General has concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” Dr. Frieden told reporters ahead of the release of this month’s CDC Vital Signs report (MMWR 2015 Feb.3;64:1-7). “People may not fully appreciate that secondhand smoke is not merely a nuisance – it causes disease and death.”

He explained that the Vital Signs report will highlight data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) , which was conducted between 1999 and 2012 to examine the health and nutrition of both children and adults across the United States. The study’s findings indicate that 40% of children, or two out of every five, are still exposed to secondhand smoke, and that even though cigarette smoking has decreased while smoke-free laws have increased in recent years, one in four nonsmokers and 58 million people overall are being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Furthermore, certain demographic groups are more likely to suffer exposure to secondhand smoke and, consequently, face several related health problems. In addition to 40.6% of children aged 3-11 years, nearly 70% of African American children in the same age range and 46.8% of all African Americans face a higher risk of secondhand smoke exposure. Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites also are highly predisposed to secondhand smoke exposure, with rates of 23.9% and 21.8%, respectively.

Americans living below the poverty line also face a 43% secondhand smoke exposure rate, while 37% of Americans in rental housing also are at risk. In fact, the home is the most significant source of exposure to secondhand smoke for children, although Dr. Frieden credited Americans with doubling the country’s number of smoke-free households over the last 20 years.

“Comprehensive smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in all indoor areas of bars, restaurants, and workplaces are an important start,” stated Dr. Frieden. “As of today, 26 states and the District of Columbia, plus about 700 communities across the country, have adopted smoke-free laws that cover these three locations [and] we’ve seen tremendous increases in the number of college and university campuses that have gone smoke free.”

According to the CDC, exposure to secondhand smoke has been proven to cause afflictions such as ear infections, respiratory infections, asthma attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome in infants and children, plus stroke, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. Secondhand smoke exposure causes 400 deaths in infants each year and more than 41,000 fatalities among nonsmoking adults per year. CDC figures also state that secondhand smoke exposure costs the United States $5.6 billion annually in lost productivity.


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