Passive smoking found to cause actual lung damage in study

October 07, 1992|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- Researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health are reporting today the first evidence that tobacco smoke in the environment creates potentially precancerous changes in the lungs of non-smokers.

While previous studies have found an increased risk of lung cancer among non-smokers who lived with smokers, the new report is the first to find actual damage in the lungs of passive smokers and strengthens the causal link.

The study, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, relied on autopsy examinations of women who had died from causes not related to smoking or respiratory diseases. All the women were non-smokers. Those married to smokers had significantly more precancerous lesions in their lungs than did those whose husbands did not smoke. The lesions were of a type suggesting that the women might have developed lung cancer if they had survived.

"This study makes a strong case for a causative role of passive smoking in lung cancer," said Dr. Dmitrios Trichopoulos, professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study.

Said Dr. Marc Manley, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute: "This is a nice look at the cells themselves. It adds a piece that hasn't really been looked at before -- that is, looking at samples of pieces of people's lungs" after years of being exposed to tobacco smoke.

Dr. Manley, of the NCI's division of cancer prevention and control, also said the Harvard report "adds to our understanding and confirms what previous studies have showed."

Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, said the study was flawed because it relied on "information from grieving relatives" to determine whether and how much the deceased women's husbands smoked.

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