Exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) from cigarettes poses a significant health risk to nonsmokers. Among youth, the home is the primary source of SHS. However, little is known about youth exposure to SHS in other nonpublic areas, particularly motor vehicles.


Data were obtained from the 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2009 waves of the National Youth Tobacco Survey, a nationally representative survey of US students in grades 6 to 12. Trends in SHS exposure in a car were assessed across survey years by school level, gender, and race/ethnicity by using binary logistic regression.


From 2000 to 2009, the prevalence of SHS exposure in cars declined significantly among both nonsmokers (39.0%–22.8%; trend P < .001) and smokers (82.3%–75.3%; trend P < .001). Among nonsmokers, this decline occurred across all school level, gender, and race/ethnicity subgroups.


SHS exposure in cars decreased significantly among US middle and high school students from 2000 to 2009. Nevertheless, in 2009, over one-fifth of nonsmoking students were exposed to SHS in cars. Jurisdictions should expand comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in worksites and public places to also prohibit smoking in motor vehicles occupied by youth.

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