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Editorial
January 14, 1998

What's So Passive About Passive Smoking?Secondhand Smoke as a Cause of Atherosclerotic Disease

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, NY.

JAMA. 1998;279(2):157-158. doi:10.1001/jama.279.2.157

Cigarette smoking represents the single most important preventable cause of death in the United States.1 Studies that document the effect of cigarette smoke on the progression of the atherosclerotic process add to the overwhelming evidence that tobacco smoke is an atherogenic agent. The morbidity and mortality secondary to tobacco smoke have been dismissed by the tobacco industry because smokers have a choice in whether they smoke and are generally aware of the risks associated with smoking. However, this argument does not extend to the millions of people who are exposed to tobacco smoke not as active smokers but by inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). The public health impact of ETS is thought to be considerable. Of the estimated 480000 smoking-related deaths that occur every year in the United States, 53000 have been attributed to ETS, making passive smoke the third leading preventable cause of death, after active smoking and alcohol use.2 Recent epidemiologic evidence shows that never smokers exposed to ETS have an increased risk not only of lung cancer but also of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Two recent prospective trials3,4 and meta-analyses2,5 estimate the relative risk for CVD at 1.2 to 1.3 for individuals exposed to ETS. Of the deaths caused by ETS, the number of deaths from heart disease is about 3 times the number of noncardiac deaths.2

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