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Secondhand Smoke Kills 42,000 Americans a Year

Stark new evidence emerges that quitting smoking does everyone a favor.

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Killer breath Photo via

By Bryan Le

10/01/12

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New figures provide stark evidence of how the decision to smoke doesn't affect the smoker alone. Secondhand smoke kills 42,000 non-smokers in the US each year, including 900 babies, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco. That's 600,000 years of total life lost—an average of 14.2 years knocked off the life of each non-smoker who died early as a result of someone else's habit. Smoking also hurts economically (besides impoverishing poorer individuals who spend up to 25% of their income on smokes): all these premature deaths from secondhand smoke add up to $6.6 billion in lost productivity. And as if all this news weren't bad enough, the researchers say it's even worse than it seems: their figures are likely an underestimate, due to inherent problems in using statistical estimates of populations. In any case, the numbers are far too high, despite the efforts of health authorities. "It is true that smoking is banned in many public places and workplaces," says Wendy Max, a professor of health economics at UCSF. "However... people are still being exposed more than we realized. Much of this may be at home, but not all. Studies show that even small amounts of secondhand smoke exposure may have a negative impact on health, particularly for people who are vulnerable for various reasons." Will this convince the one in four smokers who told Gallup that secondhand smoke is “not too harmful or not harmful at all”?

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