Smoking Ban at NYC Apartments? Health Experts Would Likely Approve

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Though 20.6% of Americans still smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone following the tobacco industry knows that, overall, cigarette manufacturers are hurting. Until 2008, when the economy took a turn for the worse, smoking rates were declining each year. Stress-induced smoking brought those numbers up again slightly, but revenue has remained steady since 2005 at about $46.9 billion. While that news is pretty good, nearly $46.9 billion is still a lot of jack. And with 30% of people below the poverty line smoking, according to the CDC, smoking cessation efforts are still essential. Next: Fast Food Growth Slows SPECIAL REPORT: See Healthland's Full Guide to Life in 2011

When the WSJ‘s Craig Karmin reported yesterday that at least half a dozen Manhattan co-ops may begin prohibiting residents from lighting up at home come spring, more than a handful of New Yorkers were no doubt peeved. Still, at least one group probably rejoiced: health experts.

New York City currently bans smoking in public areas at any building with at least 10 apartments, but that may not be enough to curb the harmful effects of smoking. Attorneys told Karmin that growing concerns over secondhand smoke is one of the recent developments that have encouraged some buildings to pursue a total prohibition.

Here’s a sampling of the health risks posed by secondhand smoke from recent Healthland posts.

Study: 99% of Children Living in Apartments May Be Exposed to Secondhand Smoke

In a study of tobacco exposure from secondhand smoke in more than 5,000 children, researchers led by Dr. Karen Wilson at University of Rochester found that youngsters aged 6 to 18 years who lived in multi-unit housing had a 45% increase in a chemical byproduct of tobacco in their blood compared with children who lived in detached family homes. And these were youngsters who lived in units where nobody smoked inside the apartment itself, meaning that the exposure was occurring primarily via secondhand smoke drifting in from other units.

Previous studies have documented the extent to which secondhand smoke can show up among nonsmokers, but Wilson says the amount of exposure in the children in her study was “a little higher than I expected.” Among white children living in apartment buildings, 99% showed levels of cotinine, the tobacco byproduct, in their blood, while 96% of African American children did as well.

Secondhand Smoke Exposure Raises Kindergartners’ Blood Pressure

…the preschoolers exposed to cigarette smoke had a 21% greater risk of having  blood pressure values above the 85th percentile for their age, compared to youngsters not exposed to secondhand smoke.

That’s particularly concerning among five- and six-year olds, since their elevated blood pressure at such a young age primes them for maintaining this hazardous state into adulthood, and for chronic disease as well. “We know that blood pressure during childhood determines blood pressure in adulthood, so if a child has high blood pressure, it is likely to remain high in adulthood,” says Simonetti. [Dr. Giacomo Simonetti is an assistant professor at the Children’s Hospital of University of Bern]

Exposure to secondhand smoke from parents who light up, he says, is a contributing factor to this early onset hypertension, by stiffening young arteries and making it more difficult for blood to flow freely through vessels. So reducing such exposure to passive smoking among toddlers may also slash heart disease and stroke rates among adults. “If we avoid secondhand smoke exposure in childhood, perhaps we can lower blood pressure among children and therefore lower blood pressure among adults, and probably also lower [heart] disease among adults as well,” he says. It would certainly be a powerful prevention tool for avoiding the leading cause of death among American adults.

Study: Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk of Stillbirth, Birth Defects

A new review paper by University of Nottingham researchers found that secondhand-smoke exposure increased the risk of stillbirth by 23% in nonsmoking pregnant women, compared with women who were not exposed to smoke at work or at home. Passive smoking also increased the risk of congenital birth defects by 13%.

The authors noted that the baby’s father was the source of secondhand-smoke exposure in five of the 19 studies: “These results highlight the importance for smoking prevention and cessation to focus on the father in addition to the mother during the preconception period as well as during pregnancy.”

Study author Jo Leonardi-Bee said… it takes about 10 cigarettes a day to produce these nasty results, adding, “ultimately though, in the interests of their partner and their unborn child the best option of course would be to give up completely.”