About half China's non-smokers breathe second-hand smoke
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Almost half of China's nonsmokers breathe secondhand smoke at home or at work, a new survey finds.
China should ban smoking at work, where an estimated 74.4 million nonsmokers inhale other peoples' smoke, Chinese and American researchers including some from Tulane University said in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
They said their study, released Thursday, is one of the first detailed looks at secondhand smoke in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco.
Overall, 49 percent of the nonsmokers, or about 139.4 million people between the ages of 35 and 74, live or work with smokers, according to the survey for the International Collaborative Study of Cardiovascular Disease in Asia.
Few Chinese especially in the vast and largely poor rural areas where most Chinese live know about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Researchers say such smoke causes thousands of lung cancer deaths a year in the United States, where less than one-quarter of adults smoke much lower than the overall 41.4 percent found in the Chinese survey.
Stop-smoking and prevention programs are more urgently needed, since fewer smokers will automatically mean less secondhand smoke, said coauthor Jiang He, chair of the epidemiology department at Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
He, whose family name is pronounced "huh", said he knows of one program in which children at one Shanghai school were taught about secondhand smoke dangers with the suggestion that they ask their parents to stop. "The program has been very useful," he said.
More than 18 percent of the estimated 282.9 million nonsmokers aged 35-74 breathe others' exhaled smoke both at home and at work, the researchers said. That's about 52 million people.
The survey looked at that age group because it is most at risk for smoking-related diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Other surveys in China have found that younger adults are slightly more likely to smoke, He said.
Overall, about 117 million middle-aged and older adults, including 108.4 million women, breathe others' smoke at home, the study found. An overlapping 74.4 million, 53.4 million of them women, breathe secondhand smoke at work.
The percentage of nonsmokers exposed to others' smoke at work is relatively low because most rural Chinese are farmers and work outdoors, He said.
In line with previous studies, this survey of 15,540 adults found that 60 percent of Chinese men are smokers.
However, it estimated that 7 percent of the women in that age group smoke. Earlier nationwide surveys had about half that figure.
The Chinese surveys cannot be directly compared because they used different methods, said the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Peking Union Medical College and Tulane University
Another 10 percent of the men and 2 percent of the women used to smoke, their report said.
That works out to about 163.2 million smokers, 30.4 million former smokers and 282.9 million nonsmokers in that age group.
Dongfeng Gu of the Chinese academy was lead author of the report; He was senior author.
Other developing Asian countries have similar smoking rates to China's, they said.
They said theirs is the first study which can be compared directly to national studies in other countries, because it uses the same questions and definitions.
China's 1.27 billion residents make up 20 percent of the world's population and smoke 30 percent of the world's cigarettes; the Chinese government is the largest producer of cigarettes in the world.
China has imposed some restrictions on smoking and cigarette advertising because of tobacco's rising health costs.