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Report shows second-hand smoke makes you sick

30 May 2001 Media Statement

Report shows second-hand smoke makes you sick

Evidence backing the need for better protection for second-hand smokers is building rapidly, Health Minister Annette King said today (Thursday, 31 May 2001)

"Last year we released a research report which estimated that nearly 400 deaths each year were attributable to second-hand smoke. More recently the findings of a study investigating the effect of smoke on bar and restaurant workers reinforced the need for stronger measures to protect restaurant and bar workers from exposure to second-hand smoke. Now we have further evidence showing that illness due to second-hand smoke is substantial," said Mrs King.

Mrs King was commenting on the findings of a report, "Morbidity attributable to second-hand smoke in New Zealand", commissioned by the Ministry of Heath. The report was written by Professor Alistair Woodward, Wellington School of Medicine, and tobacco researcher Dr Murray Laugesen.

"The findings in this latest report are significant," said Mrs King. "Not only does second-hand smoke have a major impact on childhood illnesses such as asthma, meningococcal disease, glue ear and respiratory infections, there are also significant effects on adults."

Financially, the direct hospital costs attributable to second-hand smoke is estimated to be $8.7 million each year.

"This figure, combined with the estimated 388 deaths each year attributable to second-hand smoke, on top of the 4700 smokers who die each year from smoking related illness, all add strength to calls for enhanced protection from second-hand smoke," said Mrs King.

"This Government has already indicated its commitment to help people quit smoking, with the announcement of over $11 million per annum additional funding for nicotine replacement therapy and cessation help in the 2000 Budget. Now we have further evidence which will support our call to introduce measures to protect people from the risk of second-hand smoke."

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Background Information

Second-hand smoke (SHS) is released into the environment by people smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes. It is known also as environmental tobacco smoke, and includes smoke emitted from the glowing end of cigarettes ('sidestream smoke'), 'mainstream' smoke exhaled by active smokers and small

quantities of smoke that diffuse through cigarette paper or mouthpiece.

The report notes that second-hand smoke increases the risk of many diseases: children are especially susceptible. Many New Zealanders are still exposed to SHS despite the progress that has been made in the last 10 years in reducing tobacco use. For example, approximately a third of secondary school students live in households with smokers, and 39% of indoor workers are exposed to smoke during working hours (including tea and lunch breaks).

The authors conclude that each year SHS causes:

- More than 500 hospital admissions of children under 2 years suffering from chest infections

- Almost 15,000 episodes of childhood asthma

- More than 27,000 GP consultations for asthma and other respiratory problems in childhood

- Fifteen hundred hospital operations to treat glue ear

- Approximately 50 cases of meningococcal disease

- Approximately 1200 admissions to hospital for ischaemic heart disease

- Almost 500 admissions for persons suffering from strokes

- The number of preventable hospitalisations is around 3,600 per year.

- There are effects on adults of exposures both at home and at work: each year. For instance, admissions to hospital following heart attacks include about 190 events that would not have occurred if all work places had been totally smoke-free.

- Maori are more severely affected than non-Maori, since they are more commonly exposed to SHS and background rates of disease are higher than in the non-Maori population.

In an appendix to the report two health officials, Martin Tobias and Robert Lynn, have sought to estimate the costs of morbidity due to SHS by applying health cost data (for example hospital days/costs per day) to the estimated number of events for each illness included in the report. The total direct hospital service cost attributable to second-hand smoke is roughly estimated to be $8.7 million per year.

Information in the report will be used in developing policy advice on tobacco issues. It will also be useful for health promotion and resource allocation purposes.

To estimate non-fatal illness in New Zealand attributable to SHS the authors combined measures of the prevalence of exposure to SHS with estimates of the increase in relative risk of illness due to SHS and measures of the total burden of illness in New Zealand. The sources and assumptions are made in a detailed and transparent way. The authors note that the figures should not be treated as precise measures because there are many uncertainties involved in calculations of this kind, but also note that they consider that the report provides a robust indication of the burden of illness due to SHS.

The report was peer reviewed by Ichiro Kawachi of Harvard University, USA, who is recognised internationally as an expert on the methodological issues surrounding such studies. Professor Kawachi is also familiar with the New Zealand data on which the study is based.

ENDS

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