Figures for second-hand smoke deaths similar to road fatalities

Living with a smoker is bad for your health — a study has found that the number of deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke is broadly comparable to the number of lives lost on the country’s roads.

The effect on children is also significant. The report’s authors estimate exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is causing upwards of two million additional respiratory symptom days each year in both Ireland and Scotland.

The report, entitled ‘Indoor Air Pollution and Health’ measured indoor air pollution (IAP) levels in 100 homes in Ireland and Scotland.

Researchers found the concentration of particulate pollution in the homes of indoor smokers is six times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for general outdoor air quality. Sources of IAP in the home include ingress of outdoor air pollution, cooking emissions (both from fuel and food), tobacco smoke, cleaning and consumer product emissions. The findings are particularly worrying in the context of the amount of time we spend indoors — the average European spends 90% of their time inside.

On a more reassuring note, the study also found burning coal or wood in the home for heating or using gas for cooking was not compromising indoor air quality. Peat was slightly less environmentally friendly.

Dr Marie Coggins, one of the report’s researchers based at NUI Galway, said air quality in homes using solid fuels such as coal, wood, peat and gas was “mostly comparable to that of outdoor air”.

Professor Luke Clancy, director general of TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland said the finding that particle load is almost 10 times the allowable level for healthy breathing in homes where smoking occurs was “disappointing”, given more than 40% of children are exposed to secondhand smoke in Ireland.

Dara Lynott, environmental protection agency (EPA) deputy director general, said he hoped the EPA-funded research would help public health policy and research professionals to develop interventions.

Specifically, the report’s authors have called for improved national survey campaigns to determine what proportion of the population is exposed to ETS at home. They are also calling for a national campaign to educate about the health effects of smoking at home with a view to reducing exposure.

The report was completed by NUI Galway and researchers at the University of Aberdeen, the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh and the University of Birmingham.


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