Health and wellness

Chances of lung disease killing you is 31pc higher if parents smoked when you were a child, even though you are a non-smoker, study shows

For the first time, a study has found a correlation between growing up in a home where someone smoked and the likelihood of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition, because of second-hand smoke. Another study shows quitting smoking prolongs your life, even if you risk weight gain and, possibly, diabetes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 12:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 11:29am

Childhood exposure to second-hand smoke is linked to lung disease decades later, according to a study published by the American Cancer Society.

For 22 years, researchers have been following more than 70,000 adults who have never smoked. At the beginning of the study, they were asked whether they lived in a household with a smoker while they were children. Those who did were 31 per cent more likely to die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is the first study to find a correlation between the two.

“We know that children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to have lung problems, asthma,” says Ryan Diver, the director of data analysis at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study.

The surgeon general defines second-hand smoke as both the smoke from the burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled by smokers. “Whether you are young or old, healthy or sick, second-hand smoke is dangerous,” the surgeon general’s report said, “no amount of second-hand smoke is safe.”

“There is evidence that second-hand smoke is even more detrimental than smoking. A lot of cigarettes have filters. So it [second-hand smoke] can be more detrimental in that regard,” says Geetha Raghuveer, a paediatric cardiologist at the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine.

“We need to be aware of the effects of second-hand smoke; they appear to be long lasting. We need to continue to reduce our exposure of it,” Diver said.

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Michael Eriksen, a former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health who was not part of the study, says the most important finding was that “childhood exposure to second-hand smoke increased the risk of death from COPD as an adult. That hadn’t been established before.” Most of the research on second-hand smoke looks at the immediate effects on children or adults.

The COPD mortality increase found in the study may amount to about seven additional deaths per year for every 100,000 participants. The study found slight increases in other health risks. The good news is that the study, while finding increased risk of death from one lung disease, did not find an association with cancer or heart disease, says Eriksen.

Diver says that many people in the study were born in the 1920s and ‘30s.

“Your parents didn’t intend to put you at risk. That was the culture, the norm, back then,” says Eriksen.

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Smoking habits changed over generations, and cigarette use peaked in the 1960s and has been declining since. Second-hand smoke exposure has decreased in the United States since the 1980s, due to the public health efforts to change rules governing smoking in public areas.

“For parents, the implication is don’t smoke at home and don’t smoke around your kids,” says Eriksen.

The Washington Post

Smokers better off quitting despite weight gain

If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may seem like you’re trading one set of health problems for another. But a new US study finds you’re still better off in the long run.

Compared with smokers, even the quitters who gained the most weight had at least a 50 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely from heart disease and other causes, the Harvard-led study found.

The study is impressive in its size and scope and should put to rest any myth that there are prohibitive weight-related health consequences to quitting cigarettes, says Dr William Dietz, a public health expert at George Washington University.

“The paper makes pretty clear that your health improves, even if you gain weight,” says Dietz, who was not involved in the research. “I don’t think we knew that with the assurance that this paper provides.”

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal also published a Swedish study that found quitting smoking seems to be the best thing diabetics can do to cut their risk of dying prematurely.

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The nicotine in cigarettes can suppress appetite and boost metabolism. Many smokers who quit and don’t step up their exercise find they eat more and gain weight – typically less than 4.5 kilograms, but in some cases three times that much.

A lot of weight gain is a cause of the most common form of diabetes, a disease in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Diabetes can lead to problems including blindness, nerve damage, heart and kidney disease and poor blood flow to the legs and feet.

In the US study, researchers tracked more than 170,000 men and women over roughly 20 years, looking at what they said in health questionnaires given every two years.

The people enrolled in the studies were all health professionals, and did not mirror current smokers in the general population, who are disproportionately low-income, less-educated and more likely to smoke heavily.

The researchers checked which study participants quit smoking and followed whether they gained weight and developed diabetes, heart disease or other conditions.

Quitters saw their risk of diabetes increase by 22 per cent in the six years after they kicked the habit. An editorial in the journal characterised it as “a mild elevation” in the diabetes risk.

Studies previously showed that people who quit have an elevated risk of developing diabetes, says Dr Qi Sun, one the study’s authors. He is a researcher at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

But that risk doesn’t endure, and it never leads to a higher premature death rate than what smokers face, he says.

“Regardless of the amount of weight gain, quitters always have a lower risk of dying” prematurely, says Sun.

Associated Press