Passive smoking 'is killing one person every day'

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ONE NON-SMOKER a day dies from disease caused by inhaling other people's tobacco smoke, and up to 50 children under five are admitted each day to hospital with symptoms linked to passive smoking, the Department of Health said yesterday.

It said legislation to cover the workplace and public transport will be introduced if voluntary targets on non-smoking in public places are not met.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Minister for Health, said that non-smokers have 'rights to a clean environment, they have rights to smoke-free workplaces, and transport . . . Two-thirds of our population do not smoke and many of these people . . . are understandably concerned that they might be placed at risk by breathing other people's tobacco smoke'.

Speaking at the opening of an exhibition on passive smoking at the Science Museum in London yesterday, he said: 'There is now mounting evidence that around one person a day, who does not smoke, dies from the disease as a result of inhaling other people's tobacco smoke over many years.'

Dr Mawhinney said the department was studying the United States Environmental Protection Agency report this month which said that 3,000 US lung cancer deaths in non-smokers each year were caused by passive smoking.

Environmental tobacco smoke has been designated a 'Class A' human cancer-causing agent - the most dangerous of carcinogens - by the agency.

'It (the US report) may well affect the way we take forward our future plans, and in particular smoking in public places,' Dr Mawhinney said. In its White Paper, The Health of the Nation, the Government states that at least 80 per cent of public places should be covered by non-smoking policies by 1994, and the majority of workplaces by 1995.

Nicholas Wald, professor of environmental and preventative medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, said that evidence linking passive smoking with lung cancer was 'compelling'. It increased the risk of lung cancer by between 10 and 30 per cent in non-smokers, accounting for an extra 1 to 3 cases of lung cancer per 100,000 people each year. 'It is a small but important additional risk to health,' he said.

However, Professor Wald warned that the effect of tobacco smoke on children was more important from a public health point of view. Passive smoking increased the risk of pneumonia and glue ear - the most common cause of deafness in children - by about 50 per cent. It also caused asthma and wheezing and could be linked to low birth weight. Environmental tobacco smoke also exacerbated the condition of people with asthma or angina (chest pain).

There have been five landmark studies on passive smoking from national and international agencies since 1986 and all have concluded that passive smoking causes disease. It is estimated that about one-third of the cases of lung cancer in non-smokers who live with smokers are due to passive smoking.