Secondhand Smoke Takes Large Physical and Economic Toll

Exposure Disproportionately Affects African Americans, Especially Infants

By Elizabeth Fernandez    |   ucsf.edu | September 21, 2012

Secondhand Smoke Takes Large Physical and Economic Toll

Wendy Max, PhD

Secondhand smoke is accountable for 42,000 deaths annually to nonsmokers in the United States, including nearly 900 infants, according to a new UCSF study.

 
Altogether, annual deaths from secondhand smoke represent nearly 600,000 years of potential life lost — an average of 14.2 years per person — and $6.6 billion in lost productivity, amounting to $158,000 per death, report the researchers.
 
The study, which involved the first use of a biomarker to gauge the physical and economic impacts of cigarette smoke, revealed that secondhand smoke exposure disproportionately affects African Americans, especially infants.
 
The new research reveals that despite public health efforts to reduce tobacco use, secondhand smoke continues to take a grievous toll on nonsmokers.
 
The study is published Sept. 20, 2012 in the American Journal of Public Health.
 
“In general, fewer people are smoking and many have made lifestyle changes, but our research shows that the impacts of secondhand smoke are nonetheless very large,’’ said lead author Wendy Max, PhD, professor of health economics at the UCSF School of Nursing and co-director of the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging. “The availability of information on biomarker-measured exposure allows us to more accurately assess the impact of secondhand smoke exposure on health and productivity. The impact is particularly great for communities of color.’’
 
Exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to a number of fatal illnesses including heart and lung disease, as well as conditions affecting newborns such as low birth weight and respiratory distress syndrome.
 
About a decade ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — using data from the California Environmental Protection Agency — reported that 49,400 adults died annually as a result of secondhand smoke exposure. Additionally, the CDC reported that 776 infants annually died as a result of maternal exposure in utero.
 
Those widely-cited statistics relied on self-reporting to gauge the impact of secondhand smoke.
 
The new study led by UCSF shows that the statistics on fatalities resulting from for ischemic heart disease are 25 percent lower than previously reported (34,000 deaths compared to 46,000), but nearly twice as high for lung cancer deaths (7,333 deaths compared to 3,400). The new study also shows higher infant mortality (863 deaths compared to 776).

 

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