Secondhand Smoke How Deadly Is It?

Nonsmoking adults who live with a smoker have a 15% greater risk of dying. This frightening fact is based upon census data from the entire population of New Zealand.

Perspective: This is the largest study to examine the risk of mortality in secondhand smokers. Its findings are consistent with previous smaller studies, but because of its larger size the results have a higher degree of statistical accuracy. This adds considerable weight to the existing evidence of harm caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

Comment: Here we have more evidence for the dangers of secondhand smoke (as if we needed more evidence).

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

Related Links

  • Smoking and Quitting Smoking (main article)
  • The Dangers of Second Hand Smoke!
  • Women and Smoking, Killer Combination
  • Focus Topic on Lungs, edited by Zab Mohsenifar, M.D., Director of Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Professor of Medicine at UCLA.

Second-hand Smoking Increases Risk of Adult Death by 15%

New Zealand researchers publish world is largest study on second-hand smoking and mortality
05 April 2004

Adults who have never smoked and who live with smokers have a 15 per cent higher risk of death than those living in a smoke-free household, says Dr Sarah Hill, lead author of a study conducted by the University of Otagois Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences and to be published Monday by the prestigious British Medical Journal.

The research uses New Zealand Census-Mortality Study data for all adult census respondents who had never smoked and were aged 45-74 years at the time of either the 1981 or 1996 population censuses.

Smoking status data was available for all household members aged 15 and over, and death rates were monitored for three years after the two censuses.

Those who had never smoked but who were living in households with one or more current smokers were regarded as being exposed to secondhand smoke in the home. Those living in households with no current smokers were regarded as not exposed.

The findings were conclusive: adults who had never smoked and who lived with smokers had about a 15 per cent higher risk of death than those living in a smoke-free household, even after taking into account differences in age, ethnicity, marital status, and socioeconomic position.

"This result was consistent with previous studies in this area, but what makes it truly significant is that it is more precisely measured than ever before due to its being based on a large study," Dr Hill says.

"The findings also add to the weight of evidence of harm caused by second-hand smoking, and emphasise the importance of hard-hitting television commercials that are being launched at Parliament on Wednesday," says Dr Tony Blakely, co-author and principal investigator of the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study.

The television commercials urge parents to protect their children from second-hand smoke by either quitting or smoking outside. The commercials are funded by the Ministry of Health and developed by the Health Sponsorship Council and The Quit Group.

Source: University of Otago, New Zealand News Release, April 5, 2004 (


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