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Secondhand Smoke Kills 600,000 in One Year

In the debate over South Dakota's new smoking ban, I've occasionally run across some dedicated pro-tobacco trolls who throw out pre-fab arguments claiming there's no evidence that secondhand smoke causes significant health harms.

Does 600,000 deaths a year sound significant to you?

Last Friday, British medical journal The Lancet published a study that finds 600,000 people worldwide died from disease attributable to secondhand smoke. The findings:

Worldwide, 40% of children, 33% of male non-smokers, and 35% of female non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004. This exposure was estimated to have caused 379 000 deaths from ischaemic heart disease, 165 000 from lower respiratory infections, 36 900 from asthma, and 21 400 from lung cancer. 603 000 deaths were attributable to second-hand smoke in 2004, which was about 1·0% of worldwide mortality. 47% of deaths from second-hand smoke occurred in women, 28% in children, and 26% in men. DALYs [disability-adjusted life-years) lost because of exposure to second-hand smoke amounted to 10·9 million, which was about 0·7% of total worldwide burden of diseases in DALYs in 2004. 61% of DALYs were in children. The largest disease burdens were from lower respiratory infections in children younger than 5 years (5 939 000), ischaemic heart disease in adults (2 836 000), and asthma in adults (1 246 000) and children (651 000).

[Öberg, M., Jaakkola, M. S., Woodward, A., Peruga, A., & Prüss-Ustün, A., "Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries, The Lancet, 2010.11.26]

That data is pretty plain. Indoor smoking killed more people in 2004 than did al-Qaeda. Cigarette smoke is a deadly indoor pollutant. We can drastically reduce if not eliminate these 600,000 deaths with simple, common-sense rules that say, "You can't emit that pollutant in a confined space." We can save those lives without big military spending, fancy technology, or humiliating and unconstitutional patdowns at the airport.

Secondhand smoke was responsible for 1 in 100 deaths worldwide in 2004. Add those deaths to the 5.1 million annual deaths from direct smoking, and you get a clear picture of tobacco as a serious threat to mankind's health and welfare.

South Dakota perspective: run a straight ratio of deaths to population from the Lancet study, and you get about 70 deaths a year in our fair state from secondhand smoke. There are still some idiot parents out there smoking in their cars and homes with their kids present, but our new smoking ban in bars and restaurants should save at least some of those unlucky 70 from an early tobacco-induced death.

Don Rose and the other bar owners who tried stopping the smoking ban argued that the ban was really about freedom. They're right: banning indoor smoking is about freedom, the first freedom listed by our Founding Fathers: life.


  1. VKC 2010.11.29

    I'm a smoker,but I'm a considerate smoker. I don't smoke around people that don't like it or are allergic and I don't smoke inside my home. I don't have kids,but I do have pets and I won't put them at risk from my second hand smoke.

    I'm trying to quit my smoking habit,but boy it's difficult to quit.

  2. Anonymous 2010.11.29

    I've given numerous talks on second had smoke, the current stats on death rates, I note in a column I wrote several years ago:

    "Second hand smoke will put approximately 60,000 adults in their graves each year due to heart disease; 3,000 people will die from lung cancer; and additional 12,000 deaths will be due to other tobacco related cancers such as bladder, esophageal or cancers of the oral cavity."


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