First and Secondhand Smoke is Deadly

Secondhand smoke costs years of life and productivity

(RxWiki News) People who don’t smoke shouldn’t die from smoke, but it happens everyday. Secondhand smoke exposure is an unnecessary risk that takes over 40,000 lives per year.

A recent study did the math on loss of life and productivity from secondhand smoke exposure. Results found an estimated $6.6 billion dollar loss in 2006 in the U.S. alone.

"Keep away from secondhand smoke."

Wendy Max, PhD, professor of health economics at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing, led the investigation.

Dr. Max said, “In general, fewer people are smoking and many have made lifestyle changes, but our research shows that the impacts of secondhand smoke are nonetheless very large.”

For this study, surveys were given along with blood tests. Scientific analysis of tobacco in the bloodstream was used to provide more accurate data on overall exposure to secondhand smoke.

A biomarker called serum cotinine was used to detect levels of carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke exposure in the bloodstream.

The 2006 National Health Interview Survey, the 2006 Multiple Cause of Death and The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003-2006 provided the data for the study.

Researchers were looking for adult lung cancer and heart disease caused by secondhand smoke in relation to loss of work productivity.

For infants and children, researchers looked for sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, respiratory distress syndrome and other respiratory problems due to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke was linked to a total of 42,000 deaths in 2006. Heart disease was responsible for most of the adult deaths.

When broken down by demographic, 80 percent of those who died were white, 13 percent were black and 4 percent were Hispanic.

Black infant deaths made up 24 to 36 percent of the group, even though black adult deaths were only 13 percent of the group.

For the whole study, nearly 600,000 years of potential life were lost, which equated to $6.6 billion in lost productivity, according to the authors. This averages out to $158,000 of loss per death.

Dr. Max said, “Our study probably under-estimates the true economic impact of secondhand smoke on mortality. The toll is substantial, with communities of color having the greatest losses.”

“Interventions need to be designed to reduce the health and economic burden of smoking on smokers and nonsmokers alike, and on particularly vulnerable groups.”

Contributing expert Adam Powell, PhD, said, “This study underscores the human and economic burden of smoking - both on smokers and on bystanders.”

“Studies such as this one reinforce the need to regulate smoking in public locations. When someone smokes at work, they endanger the health and productivity of both themselves and those around them.”

This study was published in September in the American Journal of Public Health.

Funding for this study was supported by the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute, and the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 25, 2012