PARIS: Second-hand tobacco smoke kills upward of 600,000 people every year, nearly a third of them children, according to a first-ever global assessment released Friday.
Unlike "lifestyle" diseases, which stem largely from individual choice, the victims of passive smoking pay the ultimate price for the health-wrecking behaviour of others, especially family members.
Among non-smokers worldwide, 40 percent of children, 35 percent of women and 33 percent of men were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available across the 192 countries examined.
When added to the 5.1 million fatalities attributable to active smoking, the final death toll from tobacco for 2004 was more than 5.7 million people, the study concluded.
Nearly half the passive-smoking deaths occurred in women, with the rest divided almost equally between children and men, said the study, published in the British medical journal.
Some 60 percent were caused by heart disease and 30 percent by lower respiratory infections, followed by asthma and lung cancer.
All told, passive smoking accounted for fully one percent of worldwide mortality in 2004.
Adult deaths caused by second-hand tobacco were spread evenly across the spectrum of poor-to-rich nations.
But for children, poverty made things much worse, the study found.
The adult-to-child ratio of fatalities in high-income Europe, for example, was 35,388 to 71.
The ratio in Africa was nearly reversed: 9,514 to 43,375.
"Children's exposure to second-hand smoke most likely happens at home," the researchers noted. "Infectious diseases and tobacco seems to be a deadly combination."
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