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Documents Referenced:
(open as pdf; new window)

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke—the smoke that comes from a lighted tobacco product or from a person who is smoking tobacco—contains more than 4,000 chemicals.(1) Of these chemicals, 11 are known cancer-causing poisons and 250 are known toxins.(2) The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” concluded that there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke, and the only way to protect people from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to eliminate the smoke exposure.(3)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Surgeon General have created a guide titled "Secondhand Smoke: What it Means to You" (opens as a pdf in new window). The guide summarizes the 2006 Surgeon General's Report and explains how people can take action to improve their health. The CDC and Surgeon General have also created an educational poster and handout, titled "Secondhand Smoke is Toxic," (opens as a pdf in new window) to illustrate some of the chemical components in secondhand smoke.

Between 38,000-65,000 deaths each year in the U.S. are a result of diseases caused by secondhand smoke.(4) Thousands of other people in the U.S. suffer from conditions caused by or made worse by secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of health problems such as:

  • Heart disease, heart attacks, and increased heart rate
  • Bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Burning eyes and throat
  • Ear Infections
  • Nose bleeds
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Frequency and severity of asthma
  • Headaches
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Low birth weight and pre-term babies
  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema

In 2003, 66,699 Minnesotans of all ages were treated for conditions such as these that were caused by secondhand smoke exposure.(5) In 2005, 581 Minnesota infants and adults died from exposure to secondhand smoke.(5)

People of all ages and backgrounds can be affected by secondhand smoke. But vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens and children, are at increased risk from health problems such as heart attack in seniors and slow lung growth in children.(4) The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends anyone with heart-related diseases avoid any exposure to secondhand smoke.(4)

Why is a Smoke-Free Living Environment so Important?

Secondhand smoke knows no boundaries. Even though 80% of adults in Minnesota are nonsmokers(6) and 71% of rental households in multi-family buildings in Minnesota have nonsmoking residents,(7) residents in multi-unit buildings cannot control if they are exposed to smoke caused by their neighbors. Smoke-free policies ensure that residents are not exposed, but only about 2% of Minnesota residents currently live in a building where smoking is prohibited in all apartment units.(7)

Ventilation and air purifiers cannot completely control secondhand smoke. Experts like the Center for Energy and Environment, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, and the U.S. Surgeon General have commented on the need to eliminate smoking rather than try to ventilate it. To learn more about these experts' reports, go to the Research page.

Many renters struggle with secondhand smoke in their apartment unit. Almost 50% of Minnesota renters are "extremely" or "very" interested in living in a smoke-free building. Over 50% of renters would be "very likely" to choose a smoke-free building over a building that allows smoking, all other things being equal. Over 33% of renters would pay more to live in a smoke-free building. Many renters would also be willing to make sacrifices such as driving farther to work or walking farther to a bus line in order to live in a smoke-free building.(7)

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