'Comprehensive Smoke-Free' Measures Needed as Secondhand Exposure Stops Declining, CDC Warns

Cigarettes are on display at a Smoker Friendly shop in Pittsburgh on July 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for more comprehensive laws and policies against smoking as the number of people exposed to secondhand smoke has remained static for the past several years.

The stall is notable as exposure rates had been declining for the past three decades, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

One in four non-smokers, or about 58 million Americans, are exposed to secondhand smoke, including two in five children. Additionally, “marked disparities persisted across population groups” including exposure suffered by half of non-smoking African-Americans, 48 percent of non-smokers living in poverty, and 38.6 percent of non-smokers living in rental housing.

If a non-smoker lives with someone who smokes, the exposure rate is 73 percent, the CDC said.

Secondhand exposure declined in the U.S. with 87.5 percent of nonsmokers affected to 25.2 percent from 1988-2014, but the downward trend stopped in 2011 — as determined by testing serum cotinine, a marker of secondhand smoke found in the blood.

“We know there’s no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “These findings reveal that there is still much more to do to protect everyone—especially children—from this completely preventable health hazard.”

The CDC stresses that secondhand smoke can cause sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children, and coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adult nonsmokers. Of children ages 3 to 11, nearly 38 percent were exposed to secondhand smoke.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive smoke-free laws, but the CDC said the lack of decline in secondhand smoke exposure “could be attributable to the slowed adoption of comprehensive smoke-free laws in all workplaces, restaurants, and bars at the state and local levels during this period.”

The CDC findings “underscore the importance of continued measures to enhance smoke-free policy coverage, including educating parents and caregivers about the benefits of voluntarily prohibiting smoking in their homes and vehicles,” the report continued. “These steps can reduce secondhand smoke exposure across all population groups, particularly those with the greatest exposure prevalence.”

“…Continued measures to implement comprehensive smoke-free laws in workplaces and public places, adoption of smoke-free home and vehicle rules, and educational interventions warning about the risks for secondhand smoke exposure can further reduce secondhand smoke exposure, especially among vulnerable populations.”