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Most Americans Have Smoke-Free Rules For Home And Car

A national survey finds that a large majority of adults in the US voluntarily apply smoke-free rules in their homes or vehicles. Yet despite this, millions of Americans, many of them children, continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in these environments, say researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who write about their findings in a study published online in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease this week.

Lead author Brian King, an epidemiologist in the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC, says in a statement:

"While almost half of all US residents are protected by 100 percent smoke-free policies in worksites, restaurants and bars, overall there are still an estimated 88 million non-smoking Americans over the age of three who are exposed to secondhand smoke."

The data for the study comes from the 2009-2010 National Adult Tobacco Survey, which classes respondents as having smoke-free rules in their homes and vehicles if they never allow anyone to smoke in them.

Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, says:

"We have made tremendous progress in the last 15 years protecting people in public spaces from secondhand smoke."

And he adds that while the good news is "people are applying the same protection in their homes and vehicles," unfortunately "millions of non-smokers, many of whom are children, remain exposed to secondhand smoke in these environments."

The survey shows that many of the states with the lowest proportion of adults applying smoke-free rules in homes and vehicles are also states with a high prevalence of adult smoking.

King and colleagues report how from the survey results they estimate 11 million non-smoking adults continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke at home, and nearly 17 million are exposed to it in a vehicle.

They also estimate that: 81% of US adults say they have smoke-free rules in their homes, and 74% say they apply them in their vehicles too.
89% of non-smokers say they have smoke-free rules at home, compared with only 48% of smokers.
85% of non-smokers say they do not allow smoking in their vehicles, compared with only 27% of smokers.
Overall, exposure to secondhand smoke is higher among men (10.7%) than women (7.9%).
Younger adults (aged 18 to 24) have the highest exposure to secondhand smoke (21.6%) and those aged 65 and over have the lowest (4.0%).
By race or ethnicity, exposure is highest among non-Hispanic blacks (13.6%), and lowest among non-Hispanic Asians (5.0%).
Exposure to secondhand smoke decreases with increasing levels of education.
By state, exposure ranges from 4.8% in Oregon to 13.7% in West Virginia. "It's important to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure and how smoke-free homes and vehicles can reduce that exposure," urges King.

Secondhand smoke is more harmful than many people might think. According to the CDC, it kills an estimated 50,000 Americans every year.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in adults who do not smoke. In children it can make asthma attacks worse and more frequent, give them ear infections and acute respiratory infections, and is also linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

In 2006, the US Surgeon General announced there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and that only 100% smoke-free policies can protect non-smokers from the health hazards of secondhand smoke. Opening a window does not eliminate the hazard, nor does any kind of ventilation system.

In 2014, it will be 50 years since the first Surgeon General's Report, which stated that smoking causes lung cancer.

Quitting smoking is probably the single most impactful thing smokers can do to improve their life expectancy.

The US Department of Health & Human Services' Be Tobacco Free website has online resources to help smokers quit.

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