Policy Measures to Reduce Secondhand Smoke Saves Lives for Nonsmokers

Smoking bans in public places have reduced the harm caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, the precursor to toxic thirdhand smoke. Unfortunately, in countries where smoking bans are less common, secondhand smoke continues to harm an alarming number of non-smokers. Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai compared the number of early deaths from secondhand smoke and the number of smokers in different parts of the world. The findings demonstrate the urgent need for global smoking bans.

March 17, 2020

By: Steven Reinberg

For every 52 smokers, secondhand smoke claims the life of one nonsmoker, an international study reports.

“We hope that attributing harm directly to smokers will help influence public opinion against secondhand smoke exposure and enthuse governments to enforce stringent anti-tobacco control,” said co-author Dr. Jagat Narula in a Mount Sinai news release. He is a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

The study found that in 2016, 52 smokers were tied to the death of one nonsmoker worldwide — up from 1990, when 31 smokers were linked to the death of one nonsmoker. Researchers said this reflects effective measures such as smoking bans in public places.

For the study, researchers analyzed global data, calculating the number of smokers in each country along with premature deaths from secondhand smoke. In North America, where public smoking bans are more widespread, about 90 smokers were associated with one death. That compared to a ratio of about 40 smokers associated with one death in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where protective measures are less common.

The researchers said these findings could help policymakers understand the harm inflicted by secondhand smoke and enact new ways to protect nonsmokers. They said this is especially important where children are concerned, because exposure to secondhand smoke puts them at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections and asthma.

Even a little secondhand smoke can damage the cardiovascular system, and long-term exposure can increase the risk for heart attack and lung cancer by 20% to 30%, the researchers noted.

“The problem is exaggerated in the rapidly developing economies which lack effective protection of nonsmokers,” said lead author Dr. Leonard Hofstra, a professor of cardiology at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

“But this research demonstrates that even in modern states there is a lot to gain when it comes to strengthening policies to protect nonsmokers, especially children. For example, it should not be allowed for parents to smoke inside their cars with them,” Hofstra said in the release.

The report was published online March 3 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Note: Content was edited for style and length

Click here to read the research study.

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