Passive Smoking: A summary of the evidence

The California EPA identified passive smoking as a risk factor for the following:

Childbirth and infancy

Low birthweight

Cot death (SIDS)

Illnesses in children

Middle ear infection

Asthma (induction & exacerbation)

Bronchitis (induction & exacerbation)

Pneumonia (induction & exacerbation)

Illnesses in adults

Heart disease


Lung cancer

Nasal cancer

The California EPA report also identified a link between passive smoking and the following:

Spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)

Adverse impact on learning and behavioural development in children

Meningococcal infections in children

Cancers and leukaemia in children

Asthma exacerbation in adults

Exacerbation of cystic fibrosis

Decreased lung function

Cervical cancer

The UK population is about 56 million, so if there were the same per capita impact as the United States, this study would suggest around 8,000 dying of heart disease caused by passive smoking each year in the UK.

Since then, studies have shown conclusively that not only does exposure to ETS increase the risk of heart disease in non-smokers but that the risks are non-linear. It would appear that even a small exposure to tobacco has a large effect on heart disease, with further exposure having a relatively small additional effect. This may be explained by the fact that exposure to ETS causes the blood to thicken – a phenomenon known as platelet aggregation. New research has shown that even half an hour’s exposure to environmental tobacco smoke by non-smokers is enough to adversely affect cells lining the coronary arteries. The dysfunction of these endothelial cells contributes towards the narrowing of arteries and a reduction in blood flow. [16]

Unlike the risk for lung cancer, where the risk is roughly in proportion to smoke exposure, passive smokers’ risk of heart disease may be as much as half that of someone smoking 20 cigarettes a day even though they only inhale about 1% of the smoke.

2 thoughts on “Passive Smoking: A summary of the evidence”

  1. The thing is Gavin, it doesn’t really matter. Let us stipulate that ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) is bad for you. Most people understand that to be true anyway. Most (non-smoking) people act as if second hand smoke is, even if not harmful, at the very least unpleasant. Yet they still patronise bars or work in bars where people smoke. That is a free choice. The Government’s smoking ban obliterates that free choice. At the moment, nobody is forced to endure ETS.

    Few people who oppose the smoking ban do so on utilitarian grounds (that second hand smoke is good for you) but do so on the basis that adults can have their individual assessment of risk and decide whether the pleasure of a night in a smoky bar or the benefit of working in that bar is worth the risk. There are plenty of risky activities that people enjoy, (bungee jumping, hang-gliding, potholing, sexual experimentation, extended clubbing sessions) would you welcome various government bans for such activities?

  2. You ought to check out a range of epidemiological studies on this subject as they range from a negative correlation between ETS and smoking related disease and a positive one. If you look at statistical studies selectively then you can always find evidence to support a position – and this debate is littered with this kind of approach. The reality is that some of the compounds in ETS cited as harmful are present in lower concentrations in ETS (and I’m talking real word, not the measure taken one centimetre from the burning tip of a cigarette)than what is regarded as acceptable workplace exposure levels for certain kinds of job. ETS is just a convenient spin to get around freedom of choice and that is why it should be seen as the basis for another insidious attempt to take away our freedom. If you don’t like smoke, just open the bloody window or don’t go to a pub. Sure it makes your clothes smell but I can’t imagine a dingy pub without the stale smell of tobacco….

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