International study highlights health risks associated with passive smoking

December 20, 2001

N.B Please note that if you are outside North America the embargo date for Lancet Press Material is 0001 hours UK time Friday 21st December 2001.

An international population study in this week's issue of THE LANCET reports that passive smoking is a widespread problem in many countries, especially in the work environment, and increases the risk of respiratory symptoms.

Passive smoking is widespread, and environmental tobacco smoke contains many potent respiratory irritants. Christer Janson and colleagues from 36 centres in 13 European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA, aimed to estimate the effect of passive smoking on respiratory symptoms, bronchial responsiveness, lung function, and total serum IgE (sensitisation of the immune system) in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey.

7882 adults who had never smoked were identified by a survey questionnaire. Information on passive smoking, respiratory symptoms, asthma, and allergic rhinitis was gathered through a structured interview. The effect of passive smoking was estimated for each country and combined across all countries (meta-analysis).

In 12 of the 36 centres, more than half the participants were regularly involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke. The prevalence of passive smoking in the workplace varied from 2.5% in Uppsala, Sweden, to 53.8% in Galdakao, Spain. Passive smoking was significantly associated with nocturnal chest tightness, nocturnal breathlessness, breathlessness after activity, and increased bronchial responsiveness. Passive smoking in the workplace was significantly associated with all types of respiratory symptoms; people with asthma were more likely to be exposed to passive smoking than people who did not have asthma. No significant association was found between passive smoking and total serum IgE. There were no significant sex differences from the study data.

Christer Janson comments: "Passive smoking is common but the prevalence varies widely between different countries. Passive smoking increased the likelihood of experiencing respiratory symptoms and was associated with increased bronchial responsiveness. Decreasing involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke in the community, especially in workplaces, is likely to improve respiratory health."
Contact: Dr Christer Janson, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Akademiska Sjukhuset, SE751 85 Uppsala, Sweden; T) +46 18 611 4115; F) +46 18 611 2819; E)


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