Passive smoking death toll revealed

The first global study into the effects of passive smoking has found it causes 600,000 deaths every year…

The first global study into the effects of passive smoking has found it causes 600,000 deaths every year – around one in a hundred worldwide.

One-third of those killed are children, often exposed to smoke at home, the World Health Organization (WHO) found, after carrying out the study across all 192 countries.

‘This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,’ said Armando Peruga, of the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study.

‘These deaths should be added to the estimated 5.1 million deaths attributable to active smoking to obtain the full effect of both passive and active smoking. Smoking, therefore, was responsible for more than 5.7 million deaths every year.’

The global health body said it was particularly concerned about the 165,000 children who die of smoke-related respiratory infections, mostly in South East Asia and in Africa. As well as being at increased risk of a series of respiratory conditions, the lungs of children who breathe in passive smoke may also develop more slowly than children who grow up in smoke-free homes.

Exposure to second hand smoke was estimated to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer.

Controversy has surrounded the issue because of the disproportionate risks of passive smoking. A non-smoker who lives with a person who smokes 20 cigarettes a day has third of the risk to health of their partner, even though they are actually exposed to only 1% of the smoke, equivalent to one cigarette every five days.

The scale of the risk has been met with disbelief and scientists have struggled to convey why it is so high. Evidence shows that the effect on the blood of toxins in tobacco smoke peaks at low levels of exposure. The toxins increase the stickiness of the blood (the tendency of the platelets to aggregate) and inflame the arteries, increasing the risk of thrombosis, a blood clot forming that that triggers a heart attack.

Only 7.4 percent of the world population currently lives in jurisdictions with comprehensive smoke-free laws, and those laws are not always robustly enforced.


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