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Study Shows Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Increases Risk of Stroke

LONDON -- People exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke are 82 percent more likely to suffer a stroke than people who aren't exposed to smoke, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand say their finding means that the real dangers of so-called passive smoking are actually much worse than originally thought. The study, published today in Tobacco Control, a British medical journal, will give more ammunition to those campaigning to have smoking banned in workplaces and public areas.

Researchers say the current figures on how much smoking increases the risk of various diseases are dramatically underestimated because nonsmokers are lumped in a single category regardless of their exposure to smoke.

That fails to measure the gap between smokers and people whose bodies are really tobacco-free, said Dr. Rodney Jackson, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland and one of the authors of the study.

"We've never really had the right comparison group because everybody has been slightly poisoned," Jackson said. Because New Zealand has quite progressive anti-passive-smoking legislation, it is easier to eliminate those exposed to secondhand smoke, he said.

The suggestion that past studies have underestimated the dangers of smoking is "an important point that has not been well appreciated," said Stanton A. Glantz, a secondhand smoke expert at the University of California-San Francisco, who was not connected with the study.

Two previous studies have linked strokes with secondhand smoke, but this is the largest and most rigorous to date. Research also shows passive smoking increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, lung and breast cancer and breathing-related diseases.

The study examined 521 stroke patients in Auckland and compared them with 1,851 randomly selected healthy people. Nobody was older than 74.

"Half the people who have strokes are 75 or older, so these are premature strokes that should not be happening," said Ruth Bonita, the lead author of the study, who now runs the non-communicable disease section at the World Health Organization.

People were classed as having been exposed to secondhand smoke if they lived with or worked in the same room as someone who regularly smoked in front of them for more than one year during the past 10 years.

Overall, smokers were four times more likely to suffer a stroke than nonsmokers. But when the nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke were excluded from the equation, smokers were then six times more likely to have a stroke.


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