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Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Passive smoking stroke risk
Cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke is a health hazard to all
Non-smokers significantly increase their risk of stroke - by as much as 82% - if they live or work with a smoker, researchers have found.

The findings have prompted new calls for a ban on smoking in public places in Britain.

Ministers are currently reviewing legislation on smoking in the workplace and will soon launch a voluntary charter for restaurants and pubs.

The study, published in the medical journal Tobacco Control, found that smokers are up to four times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not smoke - but up to six times more likely than those who are not exposed to passive smoking.

Clive Bates
Clive Bates says smoking in public places should be controlled
Researchers used data from the New Zealand Auckland Stroke Study which has documented all cases of stroke in Auckland of anyone over the age of 15.

They found that both men and women non-smokers and long-term ex-smokers ran a significant risk of stroke as a result of passive smoking for more than a year in the preceding 10 years.

Few studies have looked at the association between stroke and passive smoking, so this is generally not considered to be a risk factor, say the authors.

For this reason the adverse effects of smoking are likely to have been underestimated.

Call for tobacco controls

Dr Ruth Bonita, senior author of the study, and now director of communicable disease surveillance at the World Health Organisation, said: "This study provides compelling evidence about the need to strengthen tobacco control as a powerful means of reducing the high burden of stroke worldwide.

"Preventing exposure to other people's tobacco smoke should be a priority. Passive smokers should actively demand better protection."

Eoin Redahan, of The Stroke Association, said the charity had long been concerned about the dangers of passive smoking.

He said: "We would support the government in introducing stricter controls on smoking in public.

"And we hope the Department of Health will consider an awareness campaign to let people know of the connection between smoking and strokes."

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking organisation Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said the study proved that tobacco posed a risk to many more than just those who smoked.

He said: "Passive smoking hits the blood and circulation system hard. Even if you are exposed to just 1% of the amount of tobacco smoke breathed in by a smoker, you may be getting 10% to 20% of the increased risk of heart disease.

"Studies such as this make the case for controlling smoking when people are at work, or in public places absolutely overwhelming. There are very serious public health risks here."

Strokes are caused by a blood clot or rupture of blood vessels in the brain.

They vary in severity but generally cause some permanent damage such as slurred speech and confusion.

Severe cases can cause paralysis and death. Half of stroke victims are more than 75 years old.

Clive Bates, of Ash, says: "The government must come down hard on smoking at work"
The BBC's Daniel Sandford reports: "The link between smoking and strokes is not new"
Dr Ruth Bonita from The World Health Organisation: "People should be protected from other people's smoke"
See also:

21 May 99 | Health
17 Aug 99 | Scotland
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