Passive Smoking ‘Kills 600,000’ Worldwide Every Year

Secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 people worldwide every year, according to the study, published in the British medical journal ‘The Lancet.’

Tobacco kills a total of 5.7 million people worldwide each year, including 5.1 million people who die from their own smoking. Photo: Alexandr Kudasov/Flickr

Passive smoking claims more than 600,000 lives each year around the world – an estimated one per cent of all deaths, a global study has found.

The study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, is the first attempt to estimate worldwide impact of passive smoking.

It found more than half of the deaths are from heart disease, followed by deaths from cancer, lung infections, asthma and other ailments.

Based on 2004 data from 192 countries, the figures show smoking in that year killed almost six million people, either actively or passively by claiming the lives of non-smokers.

The exposure to secondhand smoke triggered about 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 deaths from lower respiratory disease, 36,900 deaths from asthma and 21,400 deaths from lung cancer during that year. In addition 10.9 million years of disability-free life were lost globally because of passive smoking.

The study – led by Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun of the World Health Organisation’s ‘s Tobacco-Free Initiative in Geneva and her colleagues – found that “exposure to second-hand smoke is still one of the most common indoor pollutants worldwide.”

According to World Health Organisation, smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. Tobacco kills a total of 5.7 million people worldwide each year, including 5.1 million people who die from their own smoking, the report said.

“On the basis of the proportions of second-hand smoke exposure, as many as 40 per cent of children, 35 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke indoors.

“This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,” said Armando Peruga, a program manager at the World Health Organization’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study.

More than two-thirds of the children’s deaths are in Africa and Asia, where they have less access to important public health services, such as vaccines, and less advanced medical care, the researchers concluded.

“The combination of infectious diseases and tobacco seems to be a deadly combination for children in (Africa and south Asia) and might hamper the efforts to reduce the mortality rate for those aged younger than five years.”

Peruga and colleagues found the highest numbers of people exposed to secondhand smoke are in Europe and Asia. The lowest rates of exposure were in the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa.

“The mix of infectious diseases and secondhand smoke is a deadly combination,” Peruga said. Children whose parents smoke have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. Their lungs may also grow more slowly than kids whose parents don’t smoke.

Secondhand smoke had its biggest impact on women, killing about 281,000. In many parts of the world, women are at least 50 percent more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than men.

Passing and enforcing smoke-free laws for public spaces could significantly reduce passive smoking mortality and health care costs, said Pruss-Ustun.

While many countries have introduced smoking bans in public places, experts said it would be difficult to legislate further.

“I don’t think it is likely we will see strong regulations reaching into homes,” said Heather Wipfli of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She added more public smoking bans and education might persuade people to quit smoking at home.

“There can be no question that the 1.2 billion smokers in the world are exposing billions of non-smokers to second-hand smoke, a disease-causing indoor air pollutant,” note Heather Wipfli and Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Currently, only a small fraction – nearly 7 percent – of the world population lives in areas with serious smoke-free laws, and even in these jurisdictions compliance is spotty.

Where laws are enforced, exposure to second-hand smoke in high-risk settings such as clubs and restaurants is cut by 90 percent, earlier research has shown.

The researchers recommend fully applying the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which includes tobacco tax hikes, advertising bans, and the use of nondescript packaging. [The Lancet via BBC and Fox News]

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