Synopsis: Secondhand Smoke Is A
Preventable Health Risk
Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, following primary smoking and alcohol abuse.28 It is conservatively estimated that at least 53,000 nonsmokers die annually from diseases caused by ETS: 29
37,000 from heart disease30
12,000 from cancers other than lung cancer31
3,700 from lung cancer32
Some sources place the estimated death toll much higher. According to Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, lead author of the most comprehensive study to date of ETS exposure and heart disease, as many as 60,000 deaths from heart disease alone per year are attributable to involuntary smoking.33 34 A similar estimate was independently reported in the final draft of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s 1997 Report on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke.35
These deaths are preventable. Protecting people from secondhand smoke—a Class A carcinogen like asbestos and benzene—is virtually cost-free.
The lifelong risk from passive smoking is more than 100 times higher than the estimated effect of 20 years’ exposure to chrysotile asbestos normally found in asbestos-containing buildings.36
3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmoking adults is a 57 times greater risk than the combined estimated cancer risk from all the hazardous outdoor air pollutants currently registered by the EPA.37
28 1986 Surgeon General’s Report
29 Glantz, S.A., Parmley, W.W. Passive Smoking and Heart Disease: Epidemiology, Physiology, and Biochemistry. Circulation, 83(1): 1-12, 1991.
33 Exposure to passive smoke associated with increased heart disease risk. Harvard School of Public Health, News Release, April 15, 1997.
34 Kawachi, I., et al. A prospective study of passive smoking and coronary heart disease. Circulation, 95: 2374-2379, 1997.
35 Draft of report on secondhand smoke released. Journal of the American Medical Association, 277:1026, April 2, 1997.
36 Peto, J., Doll, R., Br J Cancer 54: 381-383, 1986
37 Repace, J.L, et al. Risk Analysis 10: 27-37, 1990