Passive smoking causes over 600,000 deaths worldwide every year, a major new study has found.
Furthermore, those most likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke are children.
Scientists with the World Health Organisation (WHO) carried out the study in 192 countries. They noted that while exposure to passive smoking is common in many countries, ‘the magnitude of the problem worldwide is poorly described'.
"We aimed to estimate the worldwide exposure to second-hand smoke and its burden of disease in children and adult non-smokers in 2004," they explained.
The team found that among non-smokers around the world, 40% of children, 35% of women and 33% of men were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004.
"This exposure was estimated to have caused 379,000 deaths from ischaemic heart disease, 165,000 from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma, and 21,400 from lung cancer," the researchers said.
They found that overall, 603,000 deaths were attributable to second-hand smoke in 2004. Of these deaths, almost half occurred in women and one in four occurred in men. Shockingly, 28% occurred in children.
Meanwhile the largest disease burdens associated with passive smoking were from lower respiratory infections in children under the age of five, heart disease in adults and asthma in both adults and children.
"These estimates of worldwide burden of disease attributable to second-hand smoke suggest that substantial health gains could be made by extending effective public health and clinical interventions to reduce passive smoking worldwide," the researchers concluded.
Details of these findings are published in the medical journal, The Lancet.
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