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Secondhand Smoke Kills 600,000 Annually, Says WHO

November 26, 2010

An estimated 600,000 people worldwide die annually as a result of secondhand smoke, researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In what is reportedly the first study to ever analyze the global impact of smoking on non-smokers, researchers used data collected from 192 different countries in 2004. The statistics showed that an estimated 40 percent of children, 33 percent of non-smoking adult males, and 35 percent of non-smoking adult females were exposed to secondhand smoke that year.

According to WHO estimates, that exposure caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 deaths from respiratory infections, 36,900 deaths from asthma, and 21,400 deaths from lung cancer. Collectively, noted AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng, those deaths accounted for one percent of worldwide fatalities in 2004.

“The largest disease burdens were from lower respiratory infections in children younger than 5 years (5 939 000), ischaemic heart disease in adults (2 836 000), and asthma in adults (1 246 000) and children (651 000),” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published Friday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

In addition, according to Marlowe Hood of AFP, children in poorer nations were more likely to be effected by secondhand smoke. Hood reports that the researchers found that the adult-to-child ratio of fatalities was 35,388 to 71 in Europe, but 9,514 to 43,375 in Africa. The WHO estimates that 165,000 children die worldwide as a result of passive smoke inhalation.

“This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,” Armando Peruga, a program manager at the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, told Cheng. Peruga added that he felt that the secondhand smoke death toll should be included when discussing the number of lives lost due to smoking each year, which currently number 5.1 million.

“There can be no question that the 1.2 billion smokers in the world are exposing billions of non-smokers to secondhand smoke, a disease-causing indoor pollutant,” added Heather Wipfli and Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California (USC), who published a commentary discussing the findings alongside the study in The Lancet. “Broad initiatives are needed to motivate families to put their own policies into place to reduce exposure”¦ at home.”

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