Passive smoking claims more than 600,000 lives each year around the world – an estimated 1% of all deaths, a major study has found.
Children are the group most heavily exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke and around 165,000 of them die as a result, said researchers.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) study is the first to assess the global impact of inhaling other people’s smoke.
Based on 2004 data, the figures show smoking in that year killed almost six million people, either actively or passively by claiming the lives of non-smokers.
Second-hand smoke was believed to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma, and 21,400 from lung cancer.
In addition, 10.9 million years of disability-free life were lost globally because of passive smoking.
The findings are published in an early on-line edition of The Lancet medical journal.
Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, from the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, and her fellow authors wrote: “Exposure to second-hand smoke is still one of the most common indoor pollutants worldwide. On the basis of the proportions of second-hand smoke exposure, as many as 40% of children, 35% of women and 33% of men are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke indoors.
“We have estimated that second-hand smoke caused 603,000 deaths.. worldwide in 2004, corresponding to 1% of all deaths.
“These deaths should be added to the estimated 5.1 million deaths attributable to active smoking to obtain the full effect of both passive and active smoking. Smoking, therefore, was responsible for more than 5.7 million deaths every year in 2004.”