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Tobacco smoke exposure 'raises stroke death risk by 50%'
(China Daily HK Edition)
Updated: 2005-01-28 10:31

Regular exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of death from a stroke in non-smokers by 50 per cent, according to a recent study.

The HKU study compared 4,838 deceased non-smoker who lived with smoking spouses with a group of 763 non-smokers.

It has confirmed for the first time that the damage from second-hand smoke to the brain is an important cause of stroke deaths.

In addition, second-hand smoke causes fatal illnesses in non-smokers including heart attacks, chronic lung disease and cancer, said Professor Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

"Our study showed a direct cause and effect relationship between passive smoking and many fatal illnesses, which increases with the number of smokers a non-smoker lives with, indicating a much increased risk of serious and life-threatening diseases in people exposed to second-hand smoking on a daily basis," he told reporters at a press conference yesterday.

Hedley stressed that health risks associated with second-hand smoke are even higher than from active smoking.

"Second-hand smoking is mostly sidestream smoke that comes from the burning tip of a cigarette, and concentrations of many poisons are relatively higher in this kind of smoke," he said.

"Passive smoking impairs the ability of blood vessels to respond to exercise activity by expanding and contracting, and causes them to stiffen as it disrupts the function of blood clotting mechanisms, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes," said Hedley.

Sarah McGhee, associate professor of the Department of Community Medicine, revealed that one in five of all stroke deaths in the territory's non-smokers are attributed to damage from second-hand smoke.

"Assuming that 50 per cent of the local population aged over 35 is exposed to second-hand smoke, we estimate that there are 1,324 deaths per year in non-smokers from heart, vascular and lung diseases," she said.

Head and chair professor of the Department of Community Medicine, Lam Tai-hing, said Hong Kong workers are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, accounting for 58 per cent of the local workforce.

"All workers should be totally protected by law from second-hand smoke in all workplaces," he said.

"There is a large-scale epidemic of health problems caused by second-hand smoke, and all of these health problems are avoidable through effective smoke-free policies in all workplaces and public areas."

Lam called for stronger public measures to be implemented, with support from all legislators for comprehensive smoke-free policies in all public places.

"We propose that the Department of Health should launch a major health campaign to reduce the burden of diseases caused by passive smoking," he added.

The government is trying to legislate a smoking ban in public places including bars and restaurants. If the ban is passed in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong will join New York and such countries as Ireland and Norway and lead the campaign against tobacco in the world.

Smoking is currently banned in movie theatres, shopping malls, supermarkets and department stores. Restaurants with a capacity of more than 200 people are required to reserve at least one-third of their seating area for non-smokers.

About 15 per cent of Hong Kong's aged-above-15 population, or 847,000 people, were smokers in 2003. The annual expense for treating smoking-related disease surpassed HK$900 million, according to the government.

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