Secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing



Children exposed to secondhand smoke face a higher risk than adults. The variety of illnesses they might just get includes respiratory infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome. Keeping them far from smokers or living in a non-smoking apartment is not enough to keep children free from the dangers of secondhand smoke.  You have to live in an entirely smoke-free building in order to rid your children of these dangers.

A new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center, Mass General Hospital for Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Julius B. Richmond Center for Excellence published this January in Pediatrics the first “significant evidence of increased tobacco smoke exposure in the blood of children who live in multi-unit housing.”

The study analyzed a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey from 2001 to 2006 comprising of more than 5,000 children aged 6 to 18 to find out whether there was a relationship between smoke exposure and housing type.  The researchers used cotinine levels in the blood as indicator of tobacco exposure and tested for several cotinine cutoffs.  They found that 73% of all children were exposed in secondhand tobacco smoke and that in all cotinine cutoff levels, children living in apartments had higher rates of exposure.  Putting other factors such as poverty and age under control, children living in apartments still had a 45% increase in cotinine compared with those living in detached houses. The authors noted that although tobacco exposure may have come from smoking family members who carry in tobacco residue on their clothes after smoking outside, this may not be enough to explain all of the observed differences. Instead they concluded that this is a result of tobacco smoke seepage through walls or shared ventilation systems. There have been independent studies that showed contamination of non-smoking units in multi-unit housing systems through seepage. 

This shows how powerless parents are in protecting their children from secondhand smoke.  On the other hand, it is perhaps time to campaign for smoke-free policy buildings.  Aside from promoting a healthy lifestyle, the advantages of such buildings for landlords include “lower fire risk and insurance costs (and) lower clean up costs between tenants”.  For conscientious smokers, it’s time to rethink every time you light your cigarette in your own home. Your smoke probably creeps into your neighbor’s bedroom where a little child sleeps.

 Note: This post was written by Joyce, a colleague covering for me during my stay in NZ. Thanks, Joyce!

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