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Secondhand smoke contamination and resale value

Institution: San Diego State University Research Foundation
Investigator(s): Georg Matt, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2004 (Cycle 13) Grant #: 13IT-0042 Award: $146,760
Subject Area: Epidemiology
Award Type: Inno Dev & Exp Awards (IDEAS)

Initial Award Abstract
Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a complex mixture of more than 4,000 chemical substances, many of which have adverse health outcomes in humans (e.g., lung cancer, asthma onset and exacerbation, and acute respiratory illness). It is well-known that nonsmokers are exposed to very high doses of SHS when smoking takes place in a car with closed windows and the ventilation turned off. However, new research indicates that SHS not only contaminates the air while smoking takes place but the entire interior of a car long after smoking has ceased. This is the case because the chemical substances in SHS can accumulate in dust and attach to surfaces with which they come in contact. From these polluted surfaces, SHS is emitted into the air for weeks and months even if no further smoking takes place.

Research from controlled laboratory studies and our own research of smoker homes suggest that some materials used in cars may be particularly good SHS reservoirs (e.g., upholstery, carpeting, and ceiling liners). If this is the case, nonsmoking passengers in a smoker’s car or the unsuspecting nonsmoking buyer of a smoker’s car may be exposed to residual SHS for weeks or months after the last cigarette was smoked in the car. Because residual SHS can leave a distinct odor that is unpleasant to many nonsmokers, smoking in the car may not only be unhealthy to its passengers but also affect its resale value. The proposed study will be the first to explore whether smoking leads to residual SHS pollution of cars and affect its resale value. Specifically, we will examine (1) whether surfaces, dust, and the air in cars of smokers are polluted with SHS, (2) the relationship between SHS pollution and the smoking behavior of drivers and passengers, and (3) the relationship between SHS contamination and the resale value of a car.

To investigate these aims, a random sample of 120 used passenger cars will be examined that are for sale in the San Diego metropolitan area by private parties. One-third will be cars used by smokers who regularly smoked in the car. One-third will be cars used by smokers who did not smoke in the car. One third will be cars used by nonsmokers who did not allow smoking in their car. Before a car is sold, air, dust, and surfaces in the car will be examined to determine SHS pollution, and the seller will be interviewed to learn more about the make, model, and condition of the car and smoking in the car. After the car is sold, we will determine the cost, price, and date of the sale. From this study we will learn how widespread SHS pollution of cars is, how smoking and ventilation influence SHS contamination, and whether SHS contamination affects the value of used cars. Findings from this exploratory study can provide the basis for future research to replicate findings in large, representative samples, to determine whether nonsmokers are exposed to residual SHS in polluted cars, and to design strategies to better protect nonsmokers from SHS polluted cars.