Health effects associated with exposure to secondhand smoke: a Burden of Proof study

Published January 9, 2024, in Nature Medicine (opens in a new window)


Despite a gradual decline in smoking rates over time, exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) continues to cause harm to nonsmokers, who are disproportionately children and women living in low- and middle-income countries. 

We comprehensively reviewed the literature published by July 2022 concerning the adverse impacts of SHS exposure on nine health outcomes. Following, we quantified each exposure–response association accounting for various sources of uncertainty and evaluated the strength of the evidence supporting our analyses using the Burden of Proof Risk Function methodology. 

We found all nine health outcomes to be associated with SHS exposure. We conservatively estimated that SHS increases the risk of ischemic heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and lung cancer by at least around 8%, 5%, 1% and 1%, respectively, with the evidence supporting these harmful associations rated as weak (two stars). 

The evidence supporting the harmful associations between SHS and otitis media, asthma, lower respiratory infections, breast cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was weaker (one star). 

Despite the weak underlying evidence for these associations, our results reinforce the harmful effects of SHS on health and the need to prioritize advancing efforts to reduce active and passive smoking through a combination of public health policies and education initiatives.

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Flor LS, Anderson JA, Ahmad N, et al. Health effects associated with exposure to secondhand smoke: a Burden of Proof study. Nature Medicine. 9 January 2024. doi: 10.1038/s41591-023-02743-4.


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