Does Passive Smoking Cause Lung Cancer?

There has been a lot of controversy in recent years about the link between breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke, also called "passive smoking," and lung cancer in non-smokers. A significant body of evidence gathered in medical studies shows that non-smokers who are exposed to other people's smoke, whether in the home or at work, have a small but nevertheless very real increased risk of developing lung cancer or chest disease. However, counter studies have claimed that this increased risk is minimal and does not warrant, for example, a ban on smoking in public places, among other measures, for the protection of non-smokers' health. So what is the truth? And what does it mean for non-smoking family members, friends and colleagues who breathe in tobacco smoke every day of their lives?

The Facts On Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common fatal cancer in men and the second most common in women, after breast cancer. 1.3 million people all over the world die of lung cancer each year. In the United Kingdom, lung cancer accounts for 19% of all new cancer cases in men and 11% of all new cancer cases in women. Clearly, lung cancer is a massive problem and the link to smoking has been proven beyond any doubt. What is more worrying for those who choose not to endanger their own health by smoking is that they still have a chance of dying of cancer because the people around them smoke. Several hundred non-smokers die each year in the United Kingdom of lung cancer caused by second hand smoke.

The Facts On Second-Hand Smoke

Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 chemicals which are known to cause cancer. A World Health Organization study carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in seven European countries, found that non-smoking partners of smokers have an increased risk of about 16% of developing lung cancer. Likewise, the risk goes up to 17% in non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke in the work place. Cancer Research UK is another organization which says it has found a genuine link between second-hand smoke and lung cancer. In fact, it claims that non-smokers exposed to smoke at home could be twice as likely to develop lung cancer as non-smokers who live in a completely smoke-free environment. Furthermore, it says that children who are heavily exposed to smoke have a definite increased risk of developing lung cancer as adults, even if they never smoke themselves. Food for though for all those smoking mothers and fathers out there.

So What's The Controversy?

Some researchers refute the association of passive smoking with lung cancer. Another study published in the British Medical Journal, also on non-smokers married to smokers, claimed that the risk of contracting lung cancer through passive smoking was not very significant. However, the study was unable to rule out the possibility that non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke could be as much as 20% more likely to develop lung cancer. The study's methods were also heavily criticized by the American Cancer Society. Questions were also raised about funding from tobacco companies which had been used to support the study.

What The Law Says

In 2006, a court ruled in favor of a Tennessee railroad worker who sued his employer for failing to protect him from passive smoking at work. The man died of lung cancer in 1996 despite being a non-smoker all his life. He said he had complained many times to his bosses about the cigarette smoke he had had to breathe in at work, but his bosses had taken no action. The case took 10 years to resolve, but the court eventually decided that the employers were responsible for causing their employee's fatal lung disease.

What You Can Do

The good news is that the risk to non-smokers decreases when their exposure to cigarette smoke stops. If you are non-smoker, you need to think about how to avoid smoke in your home and work environment. This might mean asking a loved one or colleague to smoke outside. This is potentially a difficult thing to do, but you are within your rights to ask politely, for the sake of your health and that of your children. If you are a smoker, you need to quit. If you cannot, then you should avoid smoking around others. Never, ever, smoke near children or babies. You have a choice whether or not to endanger your health. When you smoke around someone else, you are denying them the same freedom to choose.