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Assessing progress in protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke
  1. Sean Semple1,
  2. Will Mueller2,
  3. Alastair H Leyland3,
  4. Linsay Gray3,
  5. John W Cherrie2,4
  1. 1 Institute for Social Marketing, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK
  2. 2 Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3 MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  4. 4 Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sean Semple, Institute for Social Marketing, Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK; sean.semple{at}


Objective To examine trends in population exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) and consider two exposure metrics as appropriate targets for tobacco control policy-makers.

Design Comparison of adult non-smokers’ salivary cotinine data available from 11 Scottish Health Surveys between 1998 and 2016.

Methods The proportions of non-smoking adults who had measurable levels of cotinine in their saliva were calculated for the 11 time points. The geometric mean (GM) concentrations of cotinine levels were calculated using Tobit regression. Changes in both parameters were assessed for the whole period and also for the years since implementation of smoke-free legislation in Scotland in 2006.

Results Salivary cotinine expressed as a GM fell from 0.464 ng/mL (95% CI 0.444 to 0.486 ng/mL) in 1998 to 0.013 ng/mL (95% CI 0.009 to 0.020 ng/mL) in 2016: a reduction of 97.2%. The percentage of non-smoking adults who had no measurable cotinine in their saliva increased by nearly sixfold between 1998 (12.5%, 95% CI 11.5% to 13.6%) and 2016 (81.6%, 95% CI 78.6% to 84.6%). Reductions in population exposure to SHS have continued even after smoke-free legislation in 2006.

Conclusions Scotland has witnessed a dramatic reduction in SHS exposure in the past two decades, but there are still nearly one in five non-smoking adults who have measurable exposure to SHS on any given day. Tobacco control strategies globally should consider the use of both the proportion of non-smoking adults with undetectable salivary cotinine and the GM as targets to encourage policies that achieve a smoke-free future.

  • cotinine
  • secondhand smoke
  • public policy

Statistics from


  • Contributors SS conceived the study, identified the data, performed preliminary analysis and wrote the draft manuscript. WM assisted with the statistical analysis and contributed to drafting and finalising the manuscript. AHL, LG and JWC contributed to drafting and finalising the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was carried out as part of employment at the Universities of Stirling and Aberdeen (SS), Glasgow (AHL and LG) and Heriot Watt (JWC). LG and AHL receive core funding from the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_12017/13) and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (SPHSU13).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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