Youth ETS Exposure: Facts & Figures

Youth exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in MN:

What can be done about youth ETS exposure?

Almost half of nonsmoking youth are exposed to ETS

There is no safe level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also known as secondhand smoke. Nationally, 2 in 5 children aged 3-11 were exposed to ETS in 2011-2012, higher than any other age group. In Minnesota, almost half (47%) of nonsmoking youth in grades 6-12 were exposed to ETS in any of the surveyed settings (including at home, in a car, at school, at work, or in a public place) in the previous week.

ETS exposure is most common in public or in cars

Percent of MN youth exposed to ETS, by setting. 2014.
"Work" includes youth with and without jobs. Source: 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.
"Work" includes youth with and without jobs. Source: 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.

The most common settings for ETS exposure were in a public place (31%), either indoor or outdoor, and riding in a car or vehicle (20%). Although only 4% of nonsmoking youth were exposed at work, almost one quarter (23%) of those young people that worked at their job in the past week were exposed.


ETS exposure in a car decreased over time

Percent of youth in MN exposed to ETS in a car.
Source: 2000-2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Surveys.
Source: 2000-2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Surveys.

Exposure to ETS in a car or vehicle continues to decrease through 2014 for nonsmoking youth and likely reflects a general decline in ETS exposure in other settings as well. Exposure tends to be higher in Greater MN youth compared to youth in the 7-county Twin Cities metropolitan area (metro). 

Previous surveys showed that overall exposure to ETS had declined over time, with a substantial decline between 2005 and 2008, and a slower decline from 2008 to 2011. This corresponds with Freedom to Breathe legislation enacted in 2007 in Minnesota, which prohibits smoking in virtually all public indoor areas (including bars, restaurants, and workplaces).

Currently, about three quarters (78%) of young people in grades 6 through 12 report that smoking is never allowed in their family vehicles. Smokers are far less likely than nonsmokers to have smoke-free homes or family vehicles.

Although the Youth Tobacco Survey has been conducted in Minnesota since 2000, changes to the survey questions in 2014 make it impossible to examine overall trends, with the exception of exposure in a car and even this must be interpreted with caution due to slight wording changes.


American Indian youth are most likely to be exposed to ETS

Percent of youth exposed to ETS in MN, by race/ethnicity. 2008-2014.
Source: 2008-2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Surveys.
Source: 2008-2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Surveys.

Young people that report American Indian or Alaska Native race are the most likely nonsmokers to be exposed to ETS (54%). Youth that report Asian or Other Pacific Islander race are the least likely nonsmokers to be exposed to ETS. The categories shown here were not mutually exclusive.

Youth that report American Indian or Alaska Native race are most likely to smoke cigarettes compared to other race/ethnicities. These data will be available soon on a new Youth Smoking: Facts & Figures webpage.


Regional differences in ETS exposure

Percent of MN youth exposed to ETS by region and setting. 2014.
Exposures were not significantly different between regions. Source: 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.
Exposures were not significantly different between regions. Source: 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.

There are small differences in ETS exposure between nonsmokers in the 7-county Twin Cities metropolitan area (metro) and Greater MN, none of which reached statistical significance. Young people in the metro were slightly more likely to be exposed in an indoor or outdoor public place or at school compared to Greater MN.

Young people in Greater MN were slightly more likely to be exposed in a car compared to the metro. Similarly, youth in Greater MN are also less likely than metro area youth to be protected by smoke-free rules in their family vehicles.

Again, these differences between regions did not reach statistical significance.


What can be done about youth ETS exposure?

Smoke-free rules in the home and car can prevent ETS exposure. About 85% of young people report that smoking is never allowed inside their home and about 78% report that smoking is never allowed in their family vehicles. Young smokers are far less likely to have smoke-free homes or family vehicles.

About 16% of nonsmoking youth reported ETS exposure at school, including the buildings, grounds, and parking lots. According to the CDC School Health Profiles, just over half (56%) of Minnesota middle and high schools had a tobacco-free school policy in place in 2012, intended to prohibit tobacco use at all times by all people on school property.