Health hazards of passive smoking

Health hazards to children of smokers
Health risks to families of smokers
Negative effects of second-hand smoke
Health hazards of secondary smoke
Environmental tobacco smoke

Tobacco has its victims other than smokers: those living among smokers can be considered as passive smokers because they are exposed to smoke concentration in the atmosphere they live in. Tobacco use is a major source of indoor air pollution also in public places, such as bars and offices. For non-smokers, smoking is an infringement of the reasonable right not to have to breathe other people's tobacco smoke.


Passive smoking is a cause of heart disease and lung cancer and can initiate or aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) increases the risk of respiratory symptoms and lower respiratory tract illness in children, and it also increases the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms. There is evidence that parental smoking causes acute and chronic middle ear disease. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is associated with exposure to ETS. The majority of children's exposure to ETS takes place in the home.


The effects of passive smoking are not limited to benign ailments. Analysis of chemicals in the urine of women who live with smokers demonstrates that tobacco smoke carcinogens, are absorbed by non-smokers from second-hand smoke. Women who live with smokers absorb five to six times more chemicals linked to lung cancer than do women who live with non-smokers. The risk of wives developing lung cancer doubled when the husbands smoked over twenty cigarettes a day. There was also an increased incidence of emphysema and asthma, although to a lesser degree. Many studies have also shown that when parents smoke, their children cough. Babies are most at risk, with the highest percentages for bronchitis and lung ailments in infants under a year old. Other studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke increases the risk of lung cancer for non-smokers who work where cigarette and cigar smoking is common, such as bars or taverns.

10 healthy non-smokers, who had avoided exposure to tobacco smoke for several weeks, were submitted to a five hour trip in one of the smoking compartments of a French train. Their urine analysed immediately afterwards showed levels of cotine (a derivative of nicotine) similar to those in a person who smokes 2-5 cigarettes a day.

In the period 1985-88, it was estimated that passive smoking accounted each year for up to 5,000 deaths in the USA, 1,000 in the UK, and 500 in Canada. Since this time estimates of ill-health and morbidity due to passive smoking have risen greatly. A 1990 study showed that passive smoking accounted for more than 3,000 cases of lung cancer among non-smokers in the USA. A 1991 report prepared by the EPA suggests that passive smoking is connected to nearly 53,000 US deaths per year, based on heart disease and cancer related fatalities. Another USA study found that leukaemia appears seven times more often among people who have spent their lives with smokers. Among people who had lived together with three or more smokers, the risk of breast cancer rose 3.3 times and the risk of cervical cancer increased 3.4 times. A 1993 US EPA report estimates 3,000 deaths and between 150,000 and 300,000 cases of respiratory illnesses among infants and children per year as results of second-hand smoke.

In the early 1990s, the UK Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 3,000 people die each year of passive smoking in Britain. In 1993, a British woman was awarded £15,000 compensation for health problems related to passive smoke in her work environment. According to a 1992 British study, children of smokers inhale the equivalent of 60 to 150 cigarettes per year. Children of parents who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day are 0.5 cm to 1 cm shorter than other children. Parental smoking is estimated to account for 17,000 children's hospital admissions annually. Symptoms of asthma are twice as common in children of smokers. The same study shows an estimated 4,300 miscarriages a year as results of maternal tobacco smoking. The foetus is also affected by passive smoking; nicotine shows up in the hair of babies newly born to non-smoking mothers who were frequently exposed to smoke during pregnancy. In 1996 a group of flight attendants in the US succeeded in lodging a case against tobacco manufacturers for the health effects they suffered as nonsmokers exposed to smoking. The attendants claim the tobacco manufacturers have minimized the dangers and health hazards of passive smoking.


1. The tolerance of passive smoking is horrific, particularly in light of proven medical information on the dangers of passive smoke intake. Aside from public spaces in the US, the idea of smoke-free areas is unheard of. Any past attempts at creating such zones have only been superficial pacification for the few who protest. A non-smoker not interested in wallowing in cigarette smoke and all its inherent fatalities has the right to smoke-free public spaces, as smokers have the freedom to enjoy cigarettes in certain public areas. Infants and children, in particular, are unknowing victims to the scourge and tolerance of passive smoke, which is in itself a form of silent abuse.

2. A 1994 study by 4 doctors at the Columbia University School of Public Health established a procedure for testing for identified markers in children's blood, as indicators of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Blood tests showed that children with mothers who did not smoke and had no other regular smokers in the house had mean levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons of 0.15 femto-moles per microgram. Children with mothers who did not smoke, but who were exposed to smoke in the house from another regular source measured 0.18, and for children whose mothers smoked, 0.35.


1. To ban or even limit public smoking for the sake of those afraid of passive smoke would be commercial and social suicide. Non smokers seem more concerned about passive smoke than about the deadly emissions pouring from road vehicles every day.

2. Smokers in the USA, for example, are being overtly discriminated against. Many are forced to stand outside of restaurants and shops in non smokers' attempts to make them feel as social outcasts.

3. A 1996 Philip Morris comparison of the relative risk between passive smoking and a range of everyday activities presents the health risk from passive smoking as less than: maintaining a high fat diet; frequently cooking with rapeseed oil; drinking 1-2 glasses of whole milk per day; eating one biscuit a day; drinking chlorinated water; or eating pepper frequently.

4. The only large-scale definitive study on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) was designed in 1988 by a World Health Organization sub-group called the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC). It compared 650 lung-cancer patients with 1,542 healthy people in seven European countries. The results were expressed as "risk ratios," where the normal risk for a non-smoker of contracting lung cancer is set at one. Exposure to tobacco smoke in the home raised the risk to 1.16 and to smoke in the workplace to 1.17. This increase, 16-17 percent, was offset by the margins of error in the study, reducing the risk factor completely.

5. The evidence concerning the health effects of secondhand smoke is not nearly as conclusive as the evidence concerning the health effects of smoking. The research suggests that people who live with smokers for decades may face a slightly higher risk of lung cancer. According to one estimate, a nonsmoking woman who lives with a smoker faces an additional lung cancer risk of 6.5 in 10,000, which would raise her lifetime risk from about 0.34 percent to about 0.41 percent. Studies of secondhand smoke and heart disease, including the results from the Harvard Nurses Study published in 1997, report more dramatic increases in disease rates - so dramatic, in fact, that they are biologically implausible, suggesting risks comparable to those faced by smokers, despite the much lower doses involved. In any case, there is no evidence that casual exposure to secondhand smoke has any impact on life expectancy.

(E) Emanations of other problems