Keep it to Yourself

WHO study: Second-hand smoke kills an estimated 600,000 every year

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you happen to smoke tobacco, your addiction can kill – not just you, but someone close to you.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in 100 deaths is attributable to passive or second-hand smoking. That’s about 600,000 people or an estimated 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer. A majority of these deaths occur in Africa and south Asia.

Children are more heavily exposed to the toxic, second-hand tobacco fumes than any other group.

Researchers looked at 192 countries beginning with data from 2004. Using mathematical models, the team estimated the number of deaths and the number of years lost of life in good health. Beginning that year, researchers figured about 40 percent of children, 33 percent of non-smoking men and 35 percent of non-smoking women were exposed to passive tobacco smoke.

An estimated 5.1 million deaths per year can be attributed to active smoking to complete a very grim picture of preventable, smoking-related deaths. To combat these startling statistics, the WHO has issued the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which calls for higher tobacco taxes, plain packaging for tobacco products and advertising bans, among other steps.

“Policy-makers should bear in mind that enforcing complete smoke-free laws will probably substantially reduce the number of deaths attributable to exposure to second-hand smoke within the first year of its implementation, with accompanying reduction in costs of illness in social and health systems,” said study-leader Annette Pruss-Ustun.

Nearly half of all second-hand-smoking-related deaths occur in women, while children account for about 28 percent of those deaths. Kids exposed to passive smoke are more likely to suffer asthma, pneumonia, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome.

And the news may be worse than suspected. Because the WHO used conservative estimates to figure the number of deaths and illnesses related to second-hand smoking, the report may actually underestimate the number of those affected, said Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco.

"These (statistics) are sad data," said Tom Glynn of the American Cancer Society, who also said he sees a glimmer of hope in the figures. While smoking bans protect only about 7 percent of the world’s population, studies show lawmakers could save lives by implementing smoking bans. After bans were instituted in some areas, heart attacks decreased by some 10 percent to 20 percent.

"There is virtually no parent who does not care deeply about protecting their children from harm," Glynn said. "They will do the right thing if made aware."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 28, 2010
Last Updated:
November 29, 2010