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How many deaths are caused by second hand cigarette smoke?
  1. Alistair Woodwarda,
  2. Murray Laugesenb
  1. aDepartment of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine, Wellington South, New Zealand, bHealth New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Professor Alistair Woodward, Department of Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine, PO Box 7343, Wellington South, New Zealandwoodward{at}


OBJECTIVES To estimate the number of deaths attributable to second hand smoke (SHS), to distinguish attributable and potentially avoidable burdens of mortality, and to identify the most important sources of uncertainty in these estimates.

METHOD A case study approach, using exposure and mortality data for New Zealand.

RESULTS In New Zealand, deaths caused by past exposures to second hand smoke currently number about 347 per year. On the basis of present exposures, we estimate there will be about 325 potentially avoidable deaths caused by SHS in New Zealand each year in the future. We have explored the effect of varying certain assumptions on which the calculations are based, and suggest a plausible range (174–490 avoidable deaths per year).

CONCLUSION Attributable risk estimates provide an indication for policy makers and health educators of the magnitude of a health problem; they are not precise predictions. As a cause of death in New Zealand, we estimate that second hand smoke lies between melanoma of the skin (200 deaths per year) and road crashes (about 500 deaths per year).

  • second hand smoke
  • attributable risk
  • mortality
  • lung cancer
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • sudden infant death syndrome

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