When you mention air quality, most people think of smog, wildfire smoke or inversions; but looming over everyone is the avoidable dangers of secondhand smoke. We have made great strides in improving the quality of our air, but there is still more to do. Personal choices about smoking in public still affect the air quality and health of those around– most importantly, children.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals including approximately 70 known human cancer-causing agents. For young children, even a small exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack or cause wheezing and coughing.1

Globally, the smoke-free movement is focusing on keeping outdoor air safe in places where youth hang out such as parks, beaches, playgrounds and plazas. There is good reason for this; nine out of ten smokers start before age eighteen. The hope is that by keeping exposure to smoking down, it will decrease the number of youth who start smoking.

The Montana Clean Air Act, enacted in 2009 requires all enclosed public places and workplaces, including bars, taverns, and casinos, to be smoke-free. However, this law does not apply to private homeowners or apartment complexes.

Even if you do not smoke, your health is still at risk. Those living in multiunit housing should be aware, smoke drifts through ventilation systems, doorways, windows and even electrical outlets. If you live in a building where smoking is allowed, become an advocate of making it non-smoking.

  • The U.S. Surgeon General has determined “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”1
  • Secondhand smoke causes disease and premature death in children who do not smoke.1
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, ear problems and more severe asthma.1
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate effects on the cardiovascular system, can cause heart disease and even lung cancer.1

Being outside is not enough to avoid second-hand smoke. In 2007, Stanford University did a study on outdoor secondhand smoke and found that “a non-smoker sitting a few feet downwind from a smoldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminate air for brief periods of time.” The study found that air pollution levels within a few feet of outdoor smokers were comparable to indoor levels that the researchers had measured in a previous study of homes and bars.1

Need more reasons to push for smoke free areas?

Smoking isn’t just bad for your health, it’s toxic to the environment.

  • Cigarette butts are the single most littered item both in the U.S. and across the globe; there are more than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littered annually across the world. 1
  • Discarded cigarettes are a major cause of fires, especially in arid environments.1
  • Cigarette butts are not biodegradable.1

What can be done?

Creating meaningful change is up to everyone.

  • Support local efforts to prohibit smoking in multiunit housing.
  • Smoke-free parks: Follow the lead of area youth. Seventh graders from Monforton School spent an afternoon picking up cigarette butts from Kirk Park in Bozeman. You would be amazed at the amount of cigarette butts were collected!
  • Help promote smoke-free events such as Music on Main. This summer concert series in downtown Bozeman is now smoke-free.

Most importantly, stop smoking.

1 Respiratory health Association (March 2014) Smoke-Free Parks: A comprehensive review of the policy considerations underlying state and municipal smoke-free park laws.