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1 In 100 Deaths Attributed To Second Hand Smoke

November 28, 2010

World Health Organization (WHO) researchers said on Friday that about one in 100 deaths around the world is due to second-hand smoke, which kills an estimated 600,000 people each year.

WHO experts found that children are more heavily exposed to second-hand smoke than any other age-group, and about 165,000 of them die every year because of it.

“Two-thirds of these deaths occur in Africa and south Asia,” the researchers, led by Annette Pruss-Ustun of the WHO in Geneva, wrote in their study.

They said that children’s exposure to second-hand smoke is most likely to happen at home, and the double blow of infectious diseases and tobacco “seems to be a deadly combination for children in these regions.”

Heather Wipfli and Jonathan Samet from the University of Southern California told Reuters that policymakers try to motivate families to stop smoking in their homes.

“In some countries, smoke-free homes are becoming the norm, but far from universally,” they wrote.

WHO researchers looked at data that dated back from 2004 in 192 countries for their study.  They used mathematical modeling to estimate deaths and the number of years lost of life in good health.

They found that 40 percent of children, 33 percent of non-smoking men and 35 percent of non-smoking women were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004 around the world.

This exposure was estimated to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer.

The researchers said that for the full impact of smoking, these deaths should be added to the 5.1 million deaths a year attributed to active tobacco use.

“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,” she wrote.

Only 7.4 percent of the world population currently lives in jurisdictions with comprehensive smoke-free laws, and those laws are not always robustly enforced.

The researchers said that in places where smoke-free rules are adhered to, research shows that exposure to second hand smoke in high-risk places like bars and restaurants can be cut by 90 percent.

Studies have also found that these types of laws will help reduce the number of cigarettes smoked by smokers and lead to higher success rates in those trying to quit.

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