Secondhand smoke exposure in public and private high-rise multiunit housing serving low-income residents in New York City prior to federal smoking ban in public housing, 2018

Elle Anastasiou, Alexis Feinberg, Albert Tovar, Emily Gill, M. J. Ruzmyn Vilcassim, Katarzyna Wyka, Terry Gordon, Ana M. Rule, Sue Kaplan, Brian Elbel, Donna Shelley, Lorna E. Thorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with 41,000 deaths attributable to secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure. On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development passed a rule requiring public housing authorities to implement smoke-free housing (SFH) policies.

OBJECTIVES: Prior to SFH policy implementation, we measured self-reported and objective SHS incursions in a purposeful sample of 21 high-rise buildings (>15 floors) in New York City (NYC): 10 public housing and 11 private sector buildings where most residents receive federal housing subsidies (herein 'Section 8' buildings).

METHODS: We conducted a baseline telephone survey targeting all residents living on the 3rd floor or higher of selected buildings: NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents were surveyed in April-July 2018 (n = 559), and residents in 'Section 8' buildings in August-November 2018 (n = 471). We invited non-smoking household participants to enroll into a longitudinal air monitoring study to track SHS exposure using: (1) nicotine concentration from passive, bisulfate-coated nicotine filters and (2) particulate matter (PM 2.5) from low-cost particle monitors. SHS was measured for 7-days in non-smoking households (NYCHA n = 157, Section 8 n = 118 households) and in building common areas (n = 91 hallways and stairwells).

RESULTS: Smoking prevalence among residents in the 21 buildings was 15.5%. Two-thirds of residents reported seeing people smoke in common areas in the past year (67%) and 60% reported smelling smoke in their apartments coming from elsewhere. Most stairwells (88%) and hallways (74%) had detectable nicotine levels, but nicotine was detected in only 9.9% of non-smoking apartments. Substantial variation in nicotine and PM 2.5 was observed between and within buildings; on average nicotine concentrations were higher in NYCHA apartments and hallways than in Section 8 buildings (p < 0.05), and NYCHA residents reported seeing smokers in common areas more frequently.

CONCLUSIONS: SFH policies may help in successfully reducing SHS exposure in public housing, but widespread pre-policy incursions suggest achieving SFH will be challenging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number135322
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 20 2020


  • Air nicotine
  • Air quality
  • Multiunit housing
  • PM
  • Policy
  • Public housing authority
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Smoke-free housing
  • Air Pollution, Indoor/statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • New York City/epidemiology
  • Housing
  • Environmental Exposure/statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult
  • Family Characteristics
  • Smoke-Free Policy
  • Female
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution/statistics & numerical data
  • Public Housing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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