Apartment dwellers who don’t smoke still can’t escape secondhand smoke completely, but in smoke-free buildings, exposure to the tiny particles in cigarette smoke may be cut by half or more, according to a new study. Researchers in Boston monitored indoor air at public-housing projects transitioning to a smoke-free policy and tracked tobacco smoke as it travelled to adjacent apartments and down common hallways.
“If people ever make an attempt at smoke-free housing, this is sort of the perfect environment to do so,” said Dr. Elizabeth Russo, lead author of the study. “There’s just higher asthma rates and [rates of] other health conditions in public housing than non-public housing.
“An argument can be made that smoke-free buildings are protective of these residents, who are even more vulnerable,” said Russo, a medical scientist at the Boston Public Health Commission.
Past research has shown many of the tiny particles in secondhand smoke to be toxic. Levels of those particles also average three times higher in homes with smoking than without. But smoke can also travel to non-smokers’ homes through vents or cracks in the walls, and down common hallways. Exposure to secondhand smoke can exacerbate health problems like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes, Russo and her co-authors note in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco.
Dr. Suzaynn Schick, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, said the current study showed that a person who lives in a building with smokers is exposed to more particulate matter and nicotine. She noted that the study uses a number of useful comparisons to test the secondhand-smoke levels.
“It puts them at risk for a higher chance of heart attack and increased risk of asthma, and these particles also contain carcinogens, so you’re also increasing your risk of cancer,” said Schick, who studies the toxins in cigarette smoke.
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