People with Low Socioeconomic Status Need More Protection from Secondhand Smoke Exposure

The CDC is focused on protecting all people from health risks—including secondhand smoke (SHS), or the smoke produced when commercial tobacco* is burned—where they work, live, and play. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.7,38 Nationwide, secondhand smoke exposure among those who don’t smoke declined from 88% in 1988-1991 to 25% in 2013-2014 but remains substantially higher among people with annual income below the poverty level compared with those at or above the poverty level.38

Smokefree air policies are important because they protect people who don’t smoke from secondhand smoke, motivate those who smoke to quit, and prevent people from starting to smoke. Right now, however, not everyone in the nation is equally protected by these policies.

high rise apartment buildings

People living in multi-unit housing experience higher levels of SHS exposure.

  • The prevalence of exposure to SHS among people living below the poverty level is two times the prevalence among people living at or above the poverty level (47.9% vs. 21.2%in 2013-14).38
  • Adults working in the service industry or in blue-collar jobs are less likely to have workplace rules restricting smoking compared to adults working white-collar jobs.39
  • Research shows that workers in the repair and maintenance industry have the highest prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure, while the highest prevalence of secondhand smoke exposure for adults who don’t smoke was among those in the construction industry.40
  • Children who live in multi-unit residences, like apartment complexes, are exposed to more SHS than those living in single-unit homes, even if no one in their family smokes indoors.41 This is potentially because smoke can travel through air vents, doors, and windows. Additionally, children who live in households with incomes below the poverty level are more likely to be exposed to SHS than children who live is households with incomes above the poverty level.42

The following actions can be taken to protect all people from SHS:

Wooden houses on grass

Smokefree home policies can protect people from SHS exposure.

  • Adopt and expand smokefree home policies, while making support for people who want to quit more available. When landlords adopt smokefree home policies, it protects tenants from SHS exposure and increases their chance of quitting tobacco long-term.43
  • Let local communities create stronger smokefree air policies. In some states that do not have a statewide smokefree policy, communities have put in place comprehensive smoke-free laws.44 However, 1 in 5 people who aren’t protected by a smokefree policy live in a state that does not allow local communities to have their own smokefree laws.45 Letting local governments adopt smokefree policies would let more communities protect residents from SHS.
*“Commercial tobacco” means harmful products that are made and sold by tobacco companies. It does not include “traditional tobacco” used by Indigenous groups for religious or ceremonial purposes.
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