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Health Issues

Why are Smoke-free Environments a Big Deal?

​​​Millions of people—adults and children—are exposed to secondhand smoke​. Sometimes, the smoke that poses a health threat comes from an adjacent housing unit such as another apartment or condominium unit. Smoke travels through walls, ventilation systems, and hallways, which expose non-smokers to the same health threats faced by smokers.

Many towns, states, casinos, medical centers, campuses, and residential buildings are moving towards keeping all of their structures smoke free, in an effort to reduce the amount of people exposed to tobacco smoke. This is especially helpful for children, who have still-developing lungs and are easily harmed by smoke exposure.

Fast Facts:

  • Blood levels of cotinine, the typical marker of tobacco smoke exposure, are higher for children in non-smoking apartments than other non-smoking types of homes. This is most likely due to smoke from neighboring apartment units.

  • Children exposed to tobacco smoke are at risk for asthma and other respiratory illnesses, earaches, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  • Some populations are more likely to become sick from smoke exposure such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, or pregnant women. Some of these groups are also more likely to live in public housing buildings and can be easily exposed to smoke.

  • The estimated cost of decontamination of a two-bedroom housing unit can be as much as $15,000.

  • How far can tobacco smoke travel? Tobacco smoke can be measured in high quantities more than 20 feet from an outdoor source.

  • Despite marketing claims, no ventilation system can protect from the death and disease caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • Some organizations are taking smoke-free laws even further: tobacco-free laws are gaining traction. These policies include products like electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes) and smokeless tobacco like dip or chew.

Where We Stand:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, Tobacco Use: A Pediatric Disease, supports clean-air and smoke-free environment ordinances and legislation in communities and states—particularly for environments in which children live, learn, work, and play, such as schools, multi-unit housing, public parks, child care settings, public beaches, sidewalks, restaurants, and sporting arenas. These environments should be smoke free even when children are not present.

To aid in accomplishing smoke-free environments, parents and caregivers can:

  • Make your voice heard. Work with your local and state legislators to support smoke-free environments.

  • Keep a smoke-free home and car. If quitting isn't possible, the only way to fully protect others from secondhand smoke is to maintain smoke-free homes and vehicles.

  • Educate your landlords and homeowners associations about the importance of maintaining smoke-free multi-unit housing environments.

Additional Information & Resources on Smoke-free Environments:


Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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