Passive smoking 'causes 1 per cent of all world's deaths'

Breathing other people's tobacco smoke is the cause of one in every 100 deaths worldwide, but is a risk over which its victims have no control, researchers have announced.

Demanding tougher restrictions on smoking, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva says the toll is heaviest on women and children who account for three-quarters of the 600,000 global deaths a year.

In the UK, almost 3,800 deaths a year are attributable to passive smoking and, given that enclosed public smoking is banned, most of these will have been as a result of exposure to smoking at home.

There are more than one billion smokers in the world who expose billions more to their smoke. Of the 192 countries in the world only 17 have laws banning public smoking, despite evidence showing they cut exposure to second-hand smoke by 60 per cent.

The harm done by passive smoking has been known for decades but it is only in the last 10 years that the scale of the damage – and ways to prevent it – have become clear. 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 per cent of the smoke, equivalent to one cigarette every five days.

The scale of the risk has 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.

Heart problems thus increase rapidly for people exposed to low levels of smoke, such as those experienced in passive smoking. This is mirrored by the experience of light smokers, among whom the heart risks rise rapidly for those who smoke one to five cigarettes a day but then rise more slowly as smoking increases to 20 cigarettes a day. At that level, the long term risks of lung cancer rise. The authors of the study found exposure to second-hand smoke varied from 13 per cent of the population in Africa to 50 per cent or more in eastern Europe and the Western pacific. They based their estimates on national surveys and laboratory studies such as measure of hair nicotine content carried out in 31 countries on three continents.

The results showed that passive smoking is the cause of 165,000 deaths a year among children from respiratory diseases and 379,000 deaths among adults from heart disease. Lung cancer, the biggest cause of death among smokers, accounts for just 21,000 deaths among passive smokers.

Most deaths among children occurred in developing countries but in adults deaths were spread across all regions of the world. The figures are based on data from 2004, the latest year for which it could be obtained for all 192 countries.

The beneficial effects of banning smoking are felt quickly because it rapidly reduces the number of heart attacks caused by "sticky" blood.

The biggest impact is in the first year, with accompanying reductions in the costs of illness which "ought to make it attractive to policymakers," the authors say.

Passive smoking is not as deadly as smoking, which claims 5.1m deaths a year. Smoking, however, is avoidable.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

    £22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Handyman

    £16575 - £18785 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Dundee based butchers requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Confectionery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To effectively manage a team which is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat