A new study from the Canadian Lung Association shows a surprising 35 per cent of smokers still smoke indoors when a non-smoker is present and 18 per cent do so around a child.
Dr. David Saltman, chair of the Discipline of Oncology at Memorial University and a co-author of the study said it is very disturbing to learn that people are still smoking around children, in the home or in a vehicle. Children are more vulnerable to second-hand smoke because they breathe at a faster rate and their bodies absorb more pollutants to their lungs than adults.
Dr. Saltman said he had urged the Newfoundland and Labrador government earlier this year to pass legislation banning smoking in cars with children. To date we are the only province in Atlantic Canada, and one of the few remaining in Canada, without such laws.
The study, published Dec. 13 in the Canadian Respiratory Journal, also reveals that eight per cent of smokers say they smoke in cars with children present where the exposure to harmful effects is even higher.
More than one-third of non-smokers surveyed said they were exposed to tobacco smoke at home or in a car. It is estimated that more than 1,000 Canadians die each year of COPD, lung cancer and other lung and heart diseases as a result of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke.
In Canada, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, claiming the lives of 20,500 Canadians in 2009. This disease is strongly linked to tobacco smoke exposure.
While people seem to understand the risk between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, they are less aware of the risk of smoking and other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), said Dr. Shannon Walker, a respirologist associated with the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study. She is also a member of the Canadian Thoracic Society.
The study reveals as many as 60 per cent of persons, who are at risk for COPD have little to no knowledge at all of the disease or its risk factors. In fact, 27 per cent of persons at risk for developing COPD did not know or agree that the main cause of COPD was tobacco smoke exposure, said Dr. Walker. Thirteen per cent of those at risk for COPD were not even aware of the term COPD or chronic obstructive lung disease. COPD is a tremendous burden to Canadian health. The broad lack of knowledge about COPD and its risk factors impedes efforts to recognize, reduce or eliminate this disease from our population. Approximately 20 per cent of smokers or ex-smokers over the age of 40 may have COPD, but this disease requires spirometry, a simple breathing test, to confirm the diagnosis.
The study also reveals that people are less aware of the health risks from smoking cigarillos and marijuana. Dr. Saltman said that cigarillos contain the same chemicals as the smoke from regular cigarettes in Canada and contribute to lung disease and cancer. And marijuana smoke has some of the same toxic substances that are found in tobacco smoke that can cause cancer.
Brian Graham, chair of the Chronic Disease Working Group for the Canadian Lung Association, said this study shows that Canadians dont understand their risk for lung disease. Part of the problem is that some lung diseases have odd names, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, that dont roll off the tongue easily. Some people may know it as COPD, some as chronic bronchitis and others may know it as emphysema. If they dont
recognize the name of the disease, how can we expect them to know if they are at risk?
As many as three million Canadians are estimated to have COPD but of those as many 1.6 million may have the disease but are undiagnosed, according to estimates from The Canadian Lung Association. Its difficult to get a true picture of the burden of lung disease when many people are undiagnosed, said Mr. Graham.
Other findings from the study on risk awareness and lung disease revealed that 50 per cent of people at risk for sleep apnea, a serious respiratory problem that interrupts breathing during sleep, are unaware that weight reduction is helpful in those who are overweight; 50 per cent of Canadians say they snore heavily, yet many of these persons may not be aware that they are at increased risk for sleep apnea; and only one in five Canadians, at risk for either lung cancer, COPD or sleep apnea, think they need to take better care of the themselves.
This study was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the National Lung Health Framework to explore risk factors for major lung disease in Canada in a population group most at risk. The survey was conducted by Leger Marketing for the Canadian Lung Association between April 12 and 16th, 2010 and was based on telephone interviews and internet surveys with a representative sample of 3,036 Canadians (18 years and over). A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 per cent, in 19 out of 20 samples. The survey advisory committee comprised members of the Canadian Lung Association, Lung Cancer Canada, National Aboriginal Health Organization, Memorial University, Canadian Thoracic Society, COPD Patient Network and Leger Marketing.