Secondhand Smoke (SHS) exposure among middle and high school students in the USA has dropped over the last ten years, researchers from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported in the March edition of Pediatrics. The authors explained that passengers in cars who accompany smokers run significant health risks, especially if they are children and teenagers.

Even though exposure has gone down over the last decade, 22.8% of students who did not smoke reported that they had breathed in environmental tobacco smoke during the previous seven days – 75.3% of smoking students had done so too.

Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, or passive smoking, refers to the unintended inhalation of tobacco smoke by other people, apart from the intended active smoker.

The authors explain that passive smoking can lead to:

  • middle ear disease
  • delayed lung growth
  • exacerbations of asthma symptoms
  • acute respiratory infections

Brian A. King, PhD, MPH, and team set out to determine how much exposure there was among teenagers to secondhand smoke in nonpublic areas, especially cars and other motor vehicles. The authors explained that most previous studies had focused on environmental tobacco smoke exposure in the home.

Non-smokers who sit with a smoking driver/passanger will inhale secondhand smoke

They gathered data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey for the years, 2009, 2006, 2004, 2002 and 2000. The survey is said to be a nationally representative one of sixth to twelfth graders. They assessed SHS exposure in motor vehicles across school years, gender and race/ethnicity.

They found that:

  • SHS exposure dropped from 39% among non smokers in 2000, to 22.8% in 2009.
  • SHS exposure fell from 82.3% among smokers in 2000, to 75.3% in 2009.

In an Abstract in the journal, the authors concluded:

“SHS exposure in cars decreased significantly among US middle and high school students from 2000 to 2009. Nevertheless, in 2009, over one-fifth of nonsmoking students were exposed to SHS in cars. Jurisdictions should expand comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in worksites and public places to also prohibit smoking in motor vehicles occupied by youth.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist