There is increasing evidence that passive smoking is associated with chronic respiratory diseases, but its association with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) requires more study. In this cross-sectional analysis of data from 3 years of the Health Survey for England, the association between passive smoking exposure and risk of COPD is evaluated.
Cross-sectional analysis of the 1995, 1996 and 2001 Health Surveys for England including participants of white ethnicity, aged 40+ years with valid lung function data. COPD was defined using the lower limit of normal spirometric criteria for airflow obstruction. Standardised questions elicited self-reported information on demography, smoking history, ethnicity, occupation, asthma and respiratory symptoms (dyspnoea, chronic cough, chronic phlegm, wheeze). Passive smoking was measured by self-report of hours of exposure to cigarette smoke per week.
Increasing passive smoke exposure was independently associated with increased risk of COPD, with adjusted OR 1.05 (95% CI 0.93 to 1.18) for 1–19 h and OR 1.18 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.39) for 20 or more hours of exposure per week. Similar patterns (although attenuated and non-significant) were observed among never smokers. More marked dose–response relationships were observed between passive smoking exposure and respiratory symptoms, but the most marked effects were on the development of clinically significant COPD (airflow obstruction plus symptoms), where the risk among never smokers was doubled (OR 1.98 (95% CI 1.03 to 3.79)) if exposure exceeded 20 h/week.
This analysis adds weight to the evidence suggesting an association between passive smoking exposure and COPD.
Passive exposure to cigarette smoke is established as an important independent risk factor for the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease and lung cancer.
Although there is growing evidence implicating passive smoking in asthma and other respiratory diseases, the evidence for its effect on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is inconsistent.
Using cross-sectional data from the annual Health Survey for England, we examined the association between self-reported exposure to passive smoking and COPD.
We have demonstrated a significant dose–response relationship between hours of exposure to passive smoking and increasing risk of COPD.
The most marked effects were observed on the development of clinically significant COPD (airflow obstruction plus symptoms), where the risk among never smokers was doubled (OR 1.98 (95% CI 1.03 to 3.79)) if exposure exceeded 20 h/week.
Passive smoking is prevalent worldwide, and even after the 2007 public smoking ban in the UK, 20% of the adult English population are still exposed to up to 20 h of passive smoking per week, with 5% exposed to more than 20 h/week; further measures are needed to investigate and reduce exposures in the home and elsewhere.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Our study has the advantage of being a large sample representative of the English population (>21 000 participants), conducted over 3 separate years, with a standardised protocol and objective measure of lung function.
However, due to the cross-sectional nature of the design, temporal associations cannot necessarily be inferred.
The Health Survey for England was not designed for the specific analyses presented in this paper, and thus some of the measures are crude.
Self-reported passive smoke exposure is only a proxy for true exposure levels, but is accepted as the most practical method of assessment.