Preventive Medicine Reports (2020-06-01)

Persistent tobacco smoke residue in multiunit housing: Legacy of permissive indoor smoking policies and challenges in the implementation of smoking bans

  • Georg E. Matt,
  • Penelope J.E. Quintana,
  • Eunha Hoh,
  • Joy M. Zakarian,
  • Nathan G. Dodder,
  • Rachael A. Record,
  • Melbourne F. Hovell,
  • E. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens,
  • Samuel Padilla,
  • Laura Markman,
  • Kayo Watanabe,
  • Thomas E. Novotny

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 18


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Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a common indoor pollutant in multiunit housing (MUH). It is also the precursor of thirdhand smoke (THS), the toxic mixture of tobacco smoke residue that accumulates in indoor environments where tobacco has been used. This study examined the levels, distribution, and factors associated with THS pollution in low-income MUH. Interviews were conducted 2016–2018 in a cross-sectional study of N = 220 MUH homes in San Diego, California. Two surface wipe samples were collected per home and analyzed for nicotine, a THS marker, using liquid chromatography-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry. Nicotine was detected in all homes of nonsmokers with indoor smoking bans (Geo Mean = 1.67 µg/m2; 95% CI = [1.23;2.30]) and smokers regardless of an indoor ban (Geo Mean = 4.80 µg/m2; 95% CI = [1.89;12.19]). Approximately 10% of nonsmokers’ homes with smoking bans showed nicotine levels higher than the average level in homes of smokers without smoking bans from previous studies (≥30 µg/m2). Housing for seniors, smoking bans on balconies, indoor tobacco use, difficult to reach surfaces, and self-reported African-American race/ethnicity were independently associated with higher THS levels. Individual cases demonstrated that high levels of surface nicotine may persist in nonsmoker homes for years after tobacco use even in the presence of indoor smoking bans. To achieve MUH free of tobacco smoke pollutants, attention must be given to identifying and remediating highly polluted units and to implementing smoking policies that prevent new accumulation of THS. As THS is a form of toxic tobacco product waste, responsibility for preventing and mitigating harmful impacts should include manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers.