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Second Hand Smoke Kills 600,000 Annually

Exposure to second hand smoke is common in most countries across the globe but there has been very little scientific evidence to measure its global impact on health. Now researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) have filled in that knowledge gap with a study showing that second hand smoke may kill over 600,000 people a year.

In this first of its kind study, the WHO researchers analyzed data on 192 countries. They found that worldwide 40% of children, 33% of non-smoking men, and 35% of non-smoking women were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004. This exposure is known as passive smoking.

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

Deaths due to passive smoking among children were highest in poor to middle income countries. In Africa 43,375 deaths occurred in children due to passive smoking compared with 9,514 in adults. In Europe's higher income countries there were just 71 child deaths due to passive smoking yet over 35,000 deaths among adults.

According to the researchers, the true annual death toll due to cigarette smoke should include the 5.1 million deaths due to active smoking as well as the 600,000 deaths due to second hand smoke.

In light of these findings, the WHO researchers urged countries to enforce their “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” which includes things like higher tobacco taxes, plain packaging, and advertising bans.

Smoke free laws are also a large step in combating this problem but currently less than 8% of the world population lives in area with smoke free laws. Smoke free laws have been proven to reduce exposure to second hand smoke in bars and restaurants by 90%.

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