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Germany

Sharing the habit

Passive smoking poses respiratory risks for adults as well as children, a major new study suggests.

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Get a whiff of this

One of the broadest studies to date of so-called "passive smoking" has confirmed many non-smokers' fears that their health may be at risk.

Swedish, Spanish and British doctors worked together, taking data from 7882 adults aged 20 to 48, all life-long non-smokers, some of whom are regularly in smokey environments at home or work.

The result, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, is an international overview of non-smokers’ exposure to smoke, and a statistical analysis of the relation to respiratory illness.

The scientists claim to have found “significant association” between passive smoking and “nocturnal chest tightness, breathlessness, and attacks of shortness of breath after strenuous activity.”

Other respiratory ailments tested included allergic rhinitis and current asthma among test-subjects, but the study found “no association” to passive smoking in these cases.

To the medical community, some of these findings may seem like common sense, but they are also novel. Most previous studies have focused on the effect of children’s passive smoking, as scientists have sought to measure potential health risks for those whose parents’ smoke.

Subjects in test groups from Italy, Spain and other southern and central European countries where smoking is popular were more likely to be passive smokers, while those from the United States, Australia, and Scandinavia were judged least at risk.

Hair records

The study of passive smoking has proven simpler with adults than with children.

Much of the data collected in the study released Friday was taken from personal testimony, which is not fully objective. Subjects were asked to describe how often they are exposed to smoke, and where.

Children are less socially sensitive to smoking, though, so researchers are keen to find objective means of measurement.

A report from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), an anti-smoking campaign group in the United Kingdom, has suggested hair-testing in future studies on children.

Human hair is known to absorb nicotine residue, providing researchers with long-term records of subjects’ exposure to smoke.

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