Children are the most affected by secondhand smoke

Despite public health efforts to control tobacco use around the world, cigarette smoking remains a common addiction with more than one billion smokers worldwide—about 40 percent of men and 10 percent of women. As a result, exposure to secondhand smoke is widespread, leading to heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and death among people who spend time in the presence of smokers.

A study published in November 2010 in The Lancet presents first estimates on the extent of worldwide exposure to secondhand smoke in 2004 and the associated burden of disease and premature death. Worldwide, more than 600,000 deaths per year are caused by secondhand smoke (more than one percent of all deaths), according to the study. After adding the estimated 5.1 million deaths due to active smoking, smoking was responsible for more than 5.7 million deaths in 2004 alone.

“These estimates…suggest that substantial health gains could be made by extending effective public health and clinical interventions to reduce passive smoking worldwide,” conclude the authors.

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1. Öberg M, Jaakkola MS, Woodward A, et al. Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries. Lancet, published online 26 Nov 2010. (open access)