Kids Living in Apartments Have Higher Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Exposure Comes From Smoke Outside Their Own Apartments, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 13, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 13, 2010 -- Children who live in apartments have blood levels of cotinine, a byproduct of tobacco smoke, that are 45% higher than children who live in detached homes, according to a new study.

The study is based on the blood samples of more than 5,000 children living in detached homes, such as mobile and single-family homes, attached homes, such as townhouses, and multi-unit housing, such as apartments. The study did not include households where a person was reported to smoke inside the home or when any child reported that he/she smoked.

The findings, published in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics, suggest that in multi-unit buildings, even if no one in a child’s home smokes inside the home, exposure to tobacco smoke exists.

Looking at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2006, researchers led by Karen Wilson, MD, MPH, an investigator at the University of Rochester in New York, found that children living in multi-unit housing had blood levels indicating secondhand smoke exposure. Among the researchers’ other findings:

  • Blood samples revealed that 73% of kids showed exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • 84.5% of children living in apartments had cotinine levels indicating recent tobacco smoke exposure, compared with 79.6% of children living in attached houses and 70.3% of children in detached houses.

Secondhand smoke is linked to an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, and respiratory and ear infections among children.

The authors say while it’s possible a child’s household family members may smoke outside the home and carry residual tobacco smoke on their clothes and hair inside the home, this alone cannot account for the discrepancy they found.

“The majority of U.S. children who live in homes where no one smokes inside have biochemical evidence of tobacco-smoke exposure, and cotinine levels are significantly higher in children who live in apartments, compared with those who live in detached houses,” Wilson and her team write. “The finding that children are at risk for tobacco-smoke exposure in apartments may accelerate the current trend of limiting smoking in multi-unit housing.”

Implementing such policies could have an impact on children’s health, the researchers added, however, providing smoking cessation resources to multi-unit residents would also be important to reducing tobacco smoke exposure.