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Smoke-Free Housing Research


Air Movement and Ventilation

Shared ventilation systems are a major concern for those living in apartment and condominiums.

Consider these facts:

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Commercial air filtering systems are designed to take the smell away, not the cancer-causing substances.

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Shared ventilation systems can cause secondhand smoke to blow from one room into another.

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Secondhand smoke can seep in and out of open windows and doors.

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Secondhand smoke stays in a room even after the smoking has stopped.


The 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's Report says that the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) indoors is to stop people from smoking indoors. The report says all exposure to SHS carries risk. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot keep nonsmokers from being exposed to SHS.1

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Short exposures to secondhand smoke can cause blood platelets to become stickier, damage the lining of blood vessels, decrease coronary flow velocity reserves, and reduce heart rate variability, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack.

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Secondhand smoke contains many chemicals that can quickly irritate and damage the lining of the airways. Even brief exposure can result in upper airway changes in healthy persons.

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Conventional air cleaning systems can remove large particles, but not the smaller particles or the gases found in secondhand smoke.

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Routine operation of a heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system can distribute secondhand smoke throughout a building.

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The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the preeminent U.S. body on ventilation issues, has concluded that ventilation technology cannot be relied on to control health risks from secondhand smoke exposure.

Research says there is no safe level of exposure to SHS; even low levels of SHS can cause illness or even death. Research also says that, depending on the age and design of a building, up to 65% of the air in a unit can come from other units in the building through tiny cracks and gaps, which exposes people to SHS.2 Blowing smoke away from children, going into another room to smoke, or opening a window may reduce the exposure to children who live in the unit, but that doesn't protect them from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Air filters and air purifiers will take out some particles from the air; however, they can't remove the particles that settle on walls, carpets, etc.

Secondhand smoke can't be controlled by ventilation and air purifiers. In June, 2016, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, (ASHRAE), reaffirmed their position on SHS, saying that ventilation technology can't be relied on to control health risks from SHS exposure. The paper ends by saying, "At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity." The document also encourages completely doing away with smoking in indoor environments as the best way to cut environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure.3

National Surveys - Tenants Prefer Smoke-free Housing

About one-quarter of all Americans live in multiunit housing, and the majority (80%), including people who smoke, have smoke-free home rules.4 Residents are concerned about the health effects of secondhand smoke. Numerous surveys have found that residents prefer smoke-free housing.5

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Cambridge Housing Authority in Massachusetts surveyed its residents and found that 77% approve of inside and outside smoking bans. 79% of residents surveyed would prefer to live in smoke-free housing. Even among smokers, 29% supported an indoor smoking ban.

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A survey in Columbus, Ohio, showed that more than 50% of residents in subsidized multifamily housing supported complete smoking bans indoors.

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A statewide survey in Oregon showed that more than 70% of renters in that state prefer smoke-free housing.

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A survey in Douglas County, Nebraska, found more than 70% of renters would choose smoke-free housing over housing that allowed smoking indoors. Most surveys find that over 50% of residents in multifamily housing in any given building or city prefers indoor smoking bans.


1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General". 2010
2. Center for Energy and Environment. "Reduction of environmental tobacco smoke transfer in Minnesota multifamily building using air sealing and ventilation treatments". 2004
3. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air Conditioning Engineers. "ASHRAE Position Document on Environmental Tobacco Smoke" June,
4. King, B., Babb, S., Tynan, M., & Gerzoff, R. (2012, December 17). National and State Estimates of Secondhand Smoke Infiltration Among U.S. Multiunit Housing Residents. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 10.1093/ntr/nts254. )
5. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (October 2014). Change Is In The Air: An Action Guide for Establishing Smoke Free Policies Public Housing and Multifamily Properties.

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Section Links

Read the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers position on Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Go there now...



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Environmental Sanitation Program
Cassandra Fairclough



Tobacco Prevention and Control Program