Cigarette smoking in the home is now responsible for as many deaths as road traffic collisions, scientists have revealed. A new Irish-Scottish survey has confirmed children in particular are at major risk from smoking in the home and action is needed to deal with the crisis.
Researchers at NUI Galway, working with colleagues in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Birmingham, discovered that burning solid fuels did not adversely affect air quality at home but a major problem emerged from cigarette smoking.
Dr Marie Coggins of NUI Galway said: "Our research shows that air quality in homes using coal, wood, peat and gas is mostly comparable to that of outdoor air. However, smoking at home creates much greater levels of air pollutants.
"Levels of particulate pollution were up to 17 times levels found outdoors. The impact of exposure to such levels on vulnerable groups such as children in homes where smoking occurs indoors needs urgent action."
The study, 'Indoor Air Pollution and Health', was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and shows that the concentration of particulate (tiny pieces of solid or liquid matter) pollution in the homes of smokers who smoke indoors is six times higher than the World Health Organisation's recommendation for general outdoor air quality.
It reveals that Europeans spend 90pc of their time indoors. Advances in the design and construction of domestic dwellings have also resulted in the amount of air entering and leaving a typical building now estimated to be 10 times lower than it was 30 years ago.
The authors conclude that the health burden of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is considerable and believe it is likely that the number of deaths from ETS exposure at home in each country is broadly comparable to those from road traffic accidents (212 in Ireland in 2010; 208 in Scotland in 2010).
The incidence of respiratory illness among children is also likely to be considerable.
The report's authors have called for improved national survey campaigns to determine what proportion of the population is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home.
Key recommendations include: l A co-ordinated national campaign to educate smokers and non-smokers about the health effects from smoking at home and the promotion of smoke-free homes.
* More education as to the health effects of second-hand smoke in the home as a means of reducing exposures.
* Greater focus on finding ways to encourage smokers to move towards smoke-free homes.
Professor Luke Clancy, director general, TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, said that while it was very reassuring that indoor pollution in Ireland was very low even where coal, peat or gas were used, the findings about second-hand smoke were very worrying.
"Action is needed to encourage people not to smoke or at least not to subject others to the health risks associated with inhaling other people's smoke," he added.