News Releases

News Releases

DHEC Shares Dangers, Disparities Related to Secondhand Smoke during National Minority Cancer Awareness Week

April 16, 2024

COLUMBIA, S.C. —The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control joins other public health agencies in recognizing National Minority Health Month in April, with a special focus on National Minority Cancer Awareness Week (April 16-22). This observance is an opportunity to share information about tobacco-related health disparities, such as the differences in rates of lung cancer and exposure to secondhand smoke among rural South Carolina residents – especially among African American people.  

Rural communities experience high rates of lung cancer and exposure to secondhand smoke. Lung cancer rates and exposure to secondhand smoke are higher among African Americans in general, but for African Americans living in rural areas, the chances are even greater.

In South Carolina, one in five people are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars increases the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers by 30%. When a person breathes in secondhand smoke, it’s as if they’re smoking.

“Creating smoke-free environments helps keep the air clean. Supporting communities that protect the health of their residents, employees, and visitors is an important part of our work,” said Hellen Dekle, DHEC Secondhand Smoke and Vaping Aerosol Exposure Protection Manager.   

Secondhand smoke contains thousands of cancer-causing toxins that cannot be filtered from the air or prevented from traveling through ductwork, cracks, and crevices.

Not only do smoke-free environments reduce lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses in non-smokers, they lower cleaning and maintenance costs, as well as health insurance costs for employers. Studies show that people prefer to work, visit, and do business in smoke-free environments.   

Rates of lung cancer are consistently higher for African American men compared to other groups of people. Data from the National Cancer Institute (2016-2020) and the current South Carolina State Health Assessment show that counties with the highest rates of on-the-job secondhand smoke exposure are also rural counties with some of the highest rates of lung and bronchus (airway) cancer among African American people in the state.   

“People living in rural areas are at a greater risk for developing and dying of lung cancer,” said Sonya Younger, South Carolina Comprehensive Cancer Control Program Director. “While certain risk factors, like family history and aging, can’t be changed, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends avoiding tobacco and secondhand smoke to lower the risk of lung cancer.”

Helping people quit smoking is an important part of creating a smoke-free environment. The SC Tobacco Quitline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) provides free, 24/7 quit support to residents of South Carolina, regardless of health insurance coverage. Callers can receive personalized quit plans, access to text and web-based support, printed guide and free nicotine replacement therapy such as patches, gum and lozenges (if appropriate). Services are available in multiple languages and extra support is available for people with mental and/or behavioral health conditions and people who are pregnant.   

DHEC encourages all residents to learn about the risk factors for lung cancer and offers extensive cancer-related resources at Information about the benefits of smoke-free environments is available at



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