RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It’s no wonder smoking bans are becoming increasingly common in both public and private spaces in this country. Secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,400 deaths from lung cancer, and as many as 69,000 deaths from heart disease each year, according to the American Lung Association. What’s more, 35 percent of children in this country—21 million all told—live in homes where residents or visitors smoke on a regular basis. Now, for the first time, there's evidence that secondhand smoke can harm the mind as well as the body.
THE DETAILS: As reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, UK researchers explored secondhand smoke's effects on mental health by analyzing 5,560 nonsmokers and 2,595 smokers. The researchers categorized the subjects into five groupings according to nicotine exposure—from low exposure to heavy smoker. The researchers then assessed the participants’ psychological status using the established 12-item General Health Questionnaire. After adjusting for all suspected confounding factors, the researchers discovered a dose-response effect regarding secondhand smoke exposure and psychological distress: the higher the exposure, the higher the distress.
WHAT IT MEANS: We may be just beginning to understand how exposure to cigarette smoke affects our mood. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate an association between SHS [secondhand smoke] exposure and mental health in a representative sample of the general population,” write the study authors. And, of course, the smokers themselves are likely experiencing even more unpleasant effects than people breathing the smoke secondhand. Psychological distress was apparent at low levels of secondhand smoke exposure, but was strongest in the smokers, according to the study.