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Children at Risk with Secondhand Smoke

New Study Shows Greater Health Risks

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – A study released yesterday shows that secondhand smoke exposure for children living in multi-unit housing has serious health consequences. The study illustrates that even with very low levels of secondhand smoke exposure children are at a much greater risk for a variety of illnesses ranging from asthma to cognitive impairments to sudden infant death syndrome. The risk of secondhand smoke to children exists even if no one smokes in their particular unit.

“Kids who are exposed to cigarette smoke are inhaling pollution directly into their lungs. This can cause illnesses and conditions like asthma. These children often miss school and aren’t always able to participate in normal activities,” stated Steve Harris, Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and President, California Chapter 1 of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Secondhand smoke exposure is completely preventable and we should do everything we can to stop this from happening to kids.”

The “Tobacco Smoke Exposure in Children Who Live in Multiunit Housing” study found that among children who live in households where no one smokes inside, those who live in apartments have a 45 percent increase in cotinine levels (a common marker of tobacco smoke exposure) compared with children who live in detached homes. This increase could be caused by smoke seeping through walls or shared ventilation systems.

“This is the first study to take a look at the exposure to secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing, and it shows there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure for children,” commented Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Health Officer for Santa Clara County. “This information should motivate all of us to do more to stop exposure to secondhand smoke, especially when children are affected.”

The study was conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Julius B. Richmond Center, the University of Rochester Medical Center and Mass General Hospital for Children. It is the first study to show significant evidence of increased tobacco smoke exposure in the blood of children who live in multi-unit housing. For more details on this study please visit:

Additionally, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report earlier in the year indicating there is no safe level of tobacco smoke exposure for children or non-smoking adults.*

Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention Division, in partnership with local public and private agencies, has focused local efforts on reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. Recently, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors adopted comprehensive tobacco prevention policies impacting the unincorporated areas of the county, including a Multi-Unit Residences Ordinance.

“The residents of this county deserve strong policies to safeguard their health,” said President Ken Yeager, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, who brought the ordinance to the Board. “These ordinances make Santa Clara County a national leader in blocking tobacco sales to minors and protecting residents from secondhand smoke.”

The Multi-Unit Residences Ordinance bans smoking in common areas of all multi-unit residences, and in all units of apartments, condominiums, and townhouses. The ordinance allows for designated smoking areas for multi-unit residences. These areas must not be enclosed and at least 30 feet away from doors, windows and other openings.

The other comprehensive tobacco prevention policies adopted by the Board of Supervisors were a Smoking Pollution Control Ordinance and a Tobacco Retailer Permit Ordinance. The passage of all three ordinances lays a foundation to inspire cities within Santa Clara County to adopt similar comprehensive tobacco control policies.

In addition to the ordinances, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department is using grant funds to increase stop smoking resources, raise awareness about secondhand smoke and provide information to young people about not smoking.** These combined tobacco prevention activities serve to protect the health of all residents of Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention Division received Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In partnership with local public and private agencies, the Public Health Department has taken the lead on implementing grant projects.

*For the Surgeon General’s report, executive summary, news release and other resources are available at

**For more information about CPPW Tobacco Prevention, please visit the Public Health Department website under Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Tobacco Prevention Programs at

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119; Joy Alexiou, Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System (408) 885-4164
Posted: December 14, 2010