Combination of tobacco smoke and high radon levels increase Kentuckians’ risk of getting lung cancer by a factor of 10

Red counties are expected to have an indoor radon level high
enough to require a radon mitigation system. (USEPA map)

Combined exposure to tobacco smoke and radon, an odorless gas that comes from small amounts of radioactive minerals in limestone bedrock, contribute to increased risk of lung cancer for Kentuckians.

Not only do high smoking rates and lack of smoking bans expose Kentuckians to high levels of tobacco smoke, the state’s laws don’t require testing and monitoring of radon, Elizabeth Adams notes in a University of Kentucky news release that gives this warning: “The risk of lung cancer increases 10-fold when a person is exposed to both high levels of radon and tobacco smoke.” She gives two steps to reduce the risk:

Reduce exposure to second- and third-hand smoke. Do not allow smoking in your home or car, and ask smokers who go outside to smoke need to cover their clothes with a jacket before returning inside, or they will bring third hand smoke in with them. Of course, quitting smoking is the best way to protect your health and the health of your family.

Test your home for radon every two years. One can often obtain a free test kit from the health department or purchase one at a home improvement store. Renters can ask their landlord about radon testing. If the radon level reaches 4.0 or above, a radon mitigation system will become necessary. Opening windows or increasing ventilation won’t solve the problem. Instead, call a certified radon mitigation company.

If someone living in your house smokes cigarettes, cigars or pipes, you might be eligible to participate in a UK research study examining the combined effects of smoke and radon. To learn more about the study, send an email to or call 859-323-4587.

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