4 countries release data on exposure to second-hand smoke

The 4 European countries (Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine) participating in the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) have released their data. This marks the completion of Phase I of GATS in all 14 countries participating worldwide.

Key findings show that non-smokers’ exposure to second-hand smoke is alarmingly high in the hospitality sector, workplace and home. Policies encouraging people voluntarily to make their homes smoke free would significantly reduce the exposure of child and adult non-smokers to second-hand smoke (although voluntary policies for public places have proven extremely ineffective). GATS is designed to produce national and subnational estimates on topics such as adults’ exposure to second-hand smoke, which are a powerful tool for policy-makers.

Rights of non-smokers

The 46 countries in the WHO European Region that are parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), as well as the European Community, “recognize that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke”. Scientific evidence has shown unequivocally that this smoke causes disease, disability and death.

In the WHO European Region, second-hand smoke is estimated to have caused 172 300 premature deaths and the loss of more than 1.4 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) in 2004. Exposure to second-hand smoke at home or work increases non-smokers’ risk of heart disease by more than 20%, and of lung cancer by 20–30%. Only 4 countries in the Region, (Greece, Ireland, Turkey and the United Kingdom) have comprehensive smoke-free legislation, and these laws are not yet robustly enforced in all jurisdictions.

Exposure to second-hand smoke varies widely among and within the six WHO regions. For instance, it ranges from 4–7% among men and 9–11% among women in the African Region to 35–66% and 32–66%, respectively, in the European Region.

A recent analysis compared 3 subregions of the WHO European Region. Percentages of second-hand exposure among adults were significantly lower in subregion A, which comprised mostly European Union countries. Although a similar trend was observed among children (based on data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey), the differences were not as great those among adults. Exposure percentages in the three subregions for men, women and children, respectively, were:

  • A – 35%, 32% and 51%
  • B – 52%, 54% and 56%
  • C – 66%, 66% and 61%.

The analysis also stresses clear inequalities in the burden of disease from second-hand smoke according to sex and age. Women carried the greatest burden of death, while children were most affected in terms of disease and quality of life: 61% of all DALYs lost globally were in children.

Subregion A comprised: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Subregion B comprised: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Subregion C comprised: Belarus, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.