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Pulmonary effects of passive smoking: the Indian experience

By D Gupta, AN Aggarwal and SK Jindal


There are only a few studies done on pulmonary effects of passive smoking from India, which are summarized in this paper. Several vernacular tobacco products are used in India, bidis (beedis) being the commonest form of these. Bidis contain a higher concentration of nicotine and other tobacco alkaloids compared to the standard cigarettes (e.g., the sum of total nicotine and minor tobacco alkaloids was 37.5 mg in bidi compared to 14–16 mg in Indian or American cigarettes in one study). A large study performed on 9090 adolescent school children demonstrated environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure to be associated with an increased risk of asthma. The odds ratio for being asthmatic in ETS-exposed as compared to ETS-unexposed children was 1.78 (95% CI: 1.33–2.31). Nearly one third of the children in this study reported non-specific respiratory symptoms and the ETS exposure was found to be positively associated with the prevalence of each symptom. Passive smoking was also shown to increase morbidity and to worsen the control of asthma among adults. Another study demonstrated exposure to ETS was a significant trigger for acute exacerbation of asthma. Increased bronchial hyper-responsiveness was also demonstrated among the healthy nonsmoking adult women exposed to ETS. Passive smoking leads to subtle changes in airflow mechanics. In a study among 50 healthy nonsmoking women passively exposed to tobacco smoke and matched for age with 50 unexposed women, forced expiratory volume in first second (FEV1) and peak expiratory flow (PEF) were marginally lower among the passive smokers (mean difference 0.13 L and 0.20 L-1, respectively), but maximal mid expiratory flow (FEF25–75%), airway resistance (Raw) and specific conductance (sGaw) were significantly impaired. An association between passive smoking and lung cancer has also been described. In a study conducted in association with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the exposure to ETS during childhood was strongly associated with an enhanced incidence of lung cancer (OR = 3.9, 95% CI 1.9–8.2). In conclusions several adverse pulmonary effects of passive smoking, similar to those described from the western and developed countries, have been described from India

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