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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks