STATE System Multiunit Housing Fact Sheet
“Secondhand smoke exposure from ‘shared air spaces’ within a building is also of concern, as a significant proportion of the population lives in apartment buildings or condominiums where smoking in another part of the building might increase tobacco smoke exposure for households of nonsmokers.”
US Surgeon General’s Report, 2006
Secondhand Smoke Exposure in Multiunit Housing Facilities Is Detrimental to the Health of Children and Nonsmoking Adults
Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.1 In the United States, approximately 58 million nonsmokers are still exposed to secondhand smoke.2 Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and causes heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults.1,3 Secondhand smoke exposure also puts children at an increased risk for a number of health problems, including sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth.1,3 Each year, more than 41,000 nonsmoking adults and 400 infants die from exposure to secondhand smoke.3 States have made substantial progress in protecting nonsmoking adults from secondhand smoke exposure in indoor worksites and public places through state and local laws and voluntary smoking restrictions introduced by employers. However, many people remain exposed to secondhand smoke in areas not covered by these policies—including homes. The home is the primary source of secondhand smoke exposure among children.4,5 To capture emerging efforts to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, the STATE System tracks state laws restricting smoking in both government and privately-owned multiunit housing facilities.
There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, and even brief exposures can adversely affect the health of nonsmokers.1 It is estimated that about 15 million US children aged 3–11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke.2 The home is the major setting where children and nonsmoking adults are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Nearly 1 of 5 children aged 3–11 years live with someone who smoked inside the home, compared with 1 of 20 nonsmoking adults.6 Children who live in homes where smoking is allowed have higher levels of biological markers for secondhand smoke exposure than children who live in homes where smoking is not allowed.1
Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure.1
Individuals who live in multi-unit housing, including apartments, are particularly susceptible to involuntary secondhand smoke exposure in the home. Secondhand smoke can infiltrate throughout a building along various pathways. Exposure to secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing facilities may vary depending on building structure, building age, and where smoking is allowed. Unlike a single family home, even if a family in a multi-unit housing facility adopts a household rule prohibiting smoking in their home, secondhand smoke can still enter their unit from other units and shared areas where smoking is allowed.1,2,7 The operation of a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system can distribute secondhand smoke throughout a building.1 There are currently no engineering approaches, including ventilation and air cleaning, that can fully eliminate the risk of secondhand smoke exposure.1,7
Approximately 80 million residents in the United States live in multi-unit housing facilities such as apartment complexes and condominiums.2 Among those residents with smokefree home rules, an estimated 27.6–28.9 million are exposed to secondhand smoke infiltration from neighboring units or shared areas in the building.8 Smokefree policies to prohibit smoking in living units and common areas of multi-unit housing facilities are legally permissible and the most effective way to fully protect residents from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke.8,9 Evidence suggests there is high compliance and support of smokefree building policies among most multi-unit housing residents.8,9,10 In addition, implementation of smokefree policies can result in substantial cost savings for multi-unit housing operators and society.8,9,10
State and local governments have begun to recognize the risk that residents of multi-unit housing facilities face from secondhand smoke infiltration. While smoking restrictions in private homes have traditionally been established primarily through voluntary household rules, some states (Hawaii and Oklahoma) have enacted legislation restricting smoking in government owned multi-unit housing facilities.11
Current state restrictions on smoking in multi-unit housing facilities limit smoking in common areas, such as lobbies and hallways. Fifteen states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit or restrict smoking in common areas of multi-unit housing facilities that are considered government facilities, such as public housing authority-operated or funded facilities. Twelve states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit or restrict smoking in common areas of privately owned housing facilities, such as a private apartment complexes or condominiums. Connecticut is the only state that explicitly exempts the common areas of government owned multi-unit housing facilities from state smoking restrictions.
Some state laws explicitly exempt individual units in multi-unit housing facilities from smoking restrictions. Nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have exemptions for individual units in government-operated facilities and eight states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have exemptions for individual units in privately-operated facilities.
While some local communities in California have recently enacted laws that prohibit smoking in individual units in some or all multi-unit housing facilities,12 no state has carried out laws that restrict smoking in individual units. Hawaii and Oklahoma are the only states that have put into effect laws that restrict smoking in government operated individual units.
Future Implications for State Efforts to Restrict Smoking in Multiunit Housing
As of March 31, 2021, only 16 states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have any restrictions in place on smoking in government or private multiunit housing facilities. Fourteen of these states, American Samoa, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands restrict smoking in common areas only, even though smoke from these areas can expose tenants to secondhand smoke infiltration.
Recent education campaigns have encouraged the public to create smokefree environments in their homes.1 The prevalence of households with smokefree home rules has increased significantly in the past 2 decades, from 43% in 1993 to 83% in 2011.13 The prevalence of voluntary private household smoking restrictions indicate public support for reducing exposure to secondhand smoke in living spaces. Surveys of multiunit housing facility residents in Minnesota found that the majority (60%) had implemented smokefree household rules in their units.5 Surveys in Portland, Oregon, also found that 75% of residents supported the rights of facility owners to prohibit smoking to prevent secondhand smoke from infiltrating into neighboring units, and that while 25% of multiunit housing residents surveyed were smokers, only 11% of renters smoke inside their units on a regular basis.14
This public support for smokefree living spaces reflects shifts in attitudes toward the unacceptability of smoking in places where others can be exposed to secondhand smoke. A lack of smoking restrictions in a multiunit housing facility limits nonsmoking tenants’ ability to protect their own and their families’ health. Only the implementation of 100% smokefree policies in multiunit housing facilities, including both common areas and individual units, can fully protect residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke in their homes.1 This can be established through policies adopted voluntarily by the owners or managers of apartments, by condominium associations, by housing authorities, or by local or state law. Local and state governments are responsible for deciding whether it is appropriate to address this problem through governmental action.
1. Centers for Disease Control. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2006.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: disparities in nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke — United States, 1999–2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(04):103–108.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014.
4. Bonnie R, Stratton K, Wallace RB, eds. Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2007.
5. Hennrikus D, Pentel PR, Sandell SD. Preferences and practices among renters regarding smoking restrictions in apartment buildings. Tob Control. 2003;12(2):189–194.
6. Centers for Disease Control. Vital signs: nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke-United States, 1999–2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010;59(35):1141–1146.
7. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, Inc (ASHRAE). Position Paper: Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Atlanta, GA: ASHRAE; 2005.
8. King BA, Babb SD, Tynan MA, Gerzoff RB. National and state estimates of secondhand smoke infiltration among U.S. multiunit housing residents. Nicotine Tob Res. 2013;15(7):1316–1321.
9. King BA, Peck RM, Babb SD. National and state cost savings associated with prohibiting smoking in subsidized and public housing in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:140222.
10. Snyder K, Vick JH, King BA. Smokefree multiunit housing: a review of the scientific literature. [PDF – 486 KB] Tob Control. 2015; 0:1–12
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State-specific prevalence of smokefree home rules—United States, 1992–2003. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2007;56(20):501–504.
12. American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. U.S. Laws and Policies Restricting or Prohibiting Smoking in Private Units of Multi-unit Housing [PDF – 408 KB]. Accessed July 14, 2015.
13. King BA, Patel, R, Babb, SD. Prevalence of smokefree home rules— United States, 1992–1993 and 2010–2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63(35);765–769.
14. National Apartment Association. Clearing the air: industry discusses trend toward smokefree housing. Units. 2007;(Dec):17–28.
DISCLAIMER: The STATE System contains data synthesized from state-level statutory laws. It does not contain state-level regulations; measures implemented by counties, cities, or other localities; opinions of Attorneys General; or relevant case law decisions for tobacco control topics other than preemption; all of which may vary significantly from the laws reported in the database, fact sheets, and publications.