Secondhand Smoke Kills Over 600,000 Annually

December 8, 2010

More than 600,000 people die each year worldwide from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, according to a recent study, and most of these deaths occur among women and children.

Investigators from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other research institutions analyzed data collected during 2004 from 192 countries. They examined deaths attributable to secondhand smoke as well as disability-adjusted life-years, or DALYs, which are used to calculate the number of years lost due to poor health.

The researchers determined that some 603,000 premature deaths were caused by secondhand smoke in 2004; 47 percent of these deaths occurred in women, 28 percent in children, and 26 percent in men. An estimated 379,000 deaths were from heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia), 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer.

The majority of DALYs lost due to secondhand smoke—61 percent—were in children, who suffered from a higher rate of lower respiratory infections (especially among children younger than five years old). Other significant causes of DALYs lost were due to heart disease in adults, and asthma in children and adults.

There was considerable geographic variation in the rates of exposure to secondhand smoke. Rates were relatively low in sub-Saharan Africa, where, for example, 12 percent of children are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. In Southeast Asia, however, an estimated 67 percent of children living in the western Pacific are regularly exposed, as are 61 percent of children in Eastern Europe.

"Information about the magnitude and distribution of the burden of disease caused by secondhand smoke is particularly pertinent to policy makers because the harm eminently preventable," the study authors wrote.

The authors recommend the implementation of public smoking bans as an effective means of curbing some of the health impacts of secondhand smoke. "By the end of 2007, 16 countries had passed national smoke-free legislation covering all workplaces and public sites," they wrote. "In a review of the effectiveness of legislation of this type, exposure to secondhand smoke in high-risk settings (such as bars and restaurants was typically reduced by about 90 percent, and the exposure of adult non-smokers in the general population to secondhand smoke cut by as much as 60 percent."

"Children's exposure to secondhand smoke most likely happens at home," the study authors further stated. Parents, guardians and caregivers have an opportunity to make home a smoke-free environment and reduce health hazards to children.

Source: Mattias Öberg, et al. "Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries." Lancet. Published Online November 26, 2010.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 07 Dec 2010

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2015