Children face worst risk from passive smoking

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN are at greatest risk from passive smoking, a report by a government expert advisory committee is expected to reveal this week.

The report, by the Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health, to be published on Thursday, will add to the woes of the beleaguered tobacco industry. It is expected to strengthen demands for a ban on smoking in public places.

The evidence of the damaging effects of passive smoking is strongest in children. Those whose parents are smokers have higher rates of cot death, pneumonia and bronchitis, respiratory illnesses and middle ear infections.

Last October, a review of research published in the British Medical Journal suggested that non-smokers who lived with a smoker increased their risk of lung cancer and heart disease by a quarter.

Experts yesterday dismissed claims that a World Health Organisation report into the links between passive smoking and cancer had been suppressed after it failed to show any association. They said the report, leaked to a Sunday newspaper, had been submitted for publication to a medical journal and it was to be expected, statistically, that of the many studies into passive smoking and cancer, some would not show a link.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the 12-centre, seven- country European study had compared 650 lung cancer patients with 1,542 healthy people and examined those who were married to, worked with or grew up with smokers. The results suggested that living with a smoker posed no additional risk and could even be protective against cancer.

Professor Gordon McVie, one of the country's leading cancer experts and the Director General of the Cancer Research Campaign, said yesterday that the interpretation of the WHO report was "highly misleading".

"I have seen the report and the figures of relative risk given are bang in line with the last ten passive smoking studies.

"The weight of the statistics show that there is more likely to be an effect than not to be an effect, the risk is a small one but the evidence certainly does not prove that no risk is present."

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking pressure group Ash, said the claim that the report had been suppressed was ludicrous since the researchers had submitted it to a journal and, like all researchers, were reluctant to talk about it in advance of publication. He said: "The tobacco industry are trying to muddy the water ahead of what is going to be a nightmare week for them."

Dr Martin Jarvis, of University College, London, and a member of the advisory committee, refused to say what would be in the committee's report, but added that if the WHO findings had been correctly reported, they did not destroy the link between passive smoking and cancer.