Inhale at Your Own Risk: Even Brief Secondhand Smoke Exposure Increases Risk of Dangerous Heart Rhythm Disorder

Secondhand Smoke Concept

New research indicates that even minimal exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder. The study, involving over 400,000 adults from the UK Biobank, found a progressive increase in risk with longer exposure durations, regardless of the environment. The findings underscore the universal health risks posed by passive smoking and support the need for stricter public smoking bans to protect public health.

According to research presented at EHRA 2024, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), even minimal exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with a higher risk of a serious heart rhythm disorder. The study found that the risk of atrial fibrillation increases with the length of time exposed to passive smoking.

“The dangers of secondhand smoke were significant regardless of whether individuals were at home, outdoors, or at work, indicating that exposure universally elevates the risk of atrial fibrillation,” said study author Dr. Kyung-Yeon Lee of Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea. “We should all make every effort to avoid spending time in smoky environments. The findings should also drive policymakers to further curb smoking in public areas and support smoking cessation programs to improve public health.”

Atrial Fibrillation: A Global Concern

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder worldwide. Symptoms include palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. It is estimated that one in three Europeans will develop the condition during their lifetime. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke than their healthy peers.

It is well-established that passive smoking is linked to coronary artery disease and premature death. However, the links between secondhand smoke and atrial fibrillation have been unclear. This study examined the association between secondhand smoke exposure and the long-term risk of incident atrial fibrillation. The study included adults aged 40 to 69 years who had used the UK National Health Service (NHS) for any reason and were enrolled in the UK Biobank. Current smokers and those with atrial fibrillation at baseline were excluded from the study.

A total of 400,493 adults were included in the analysis. The average age of participants was 56.5 years and 55.2% were women. A touchscreen questionnaire was used to ask participants the number of hours they had been exposed to other people’s smoke in a typical week over the past year at home and in other environments. Participants were categorized into the ‘exposed group’ if they had any contact with secondhand smoke and the ‘non-exposed group’ if they had no contact with secondhand smoke. Some 85,984 (21%) participants had been exposed to secondhand smoke in the previous year, with an average exposure of 2.2 hours per week. During a median follow-up of 12.5 years, atrial fibrillation developed in 23,471 (6%) participants.

Analysis of Exposure and Risk

The researchers analyzed the association between exposure to secondhand smoke and incident atrial fibrillation after adjusting for factors that could potentially affect the relationship, including age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index, daily alcohol consumption, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, socioeconomic status, and enrolment center. The group exposed to secondhand smoke had a 6% higher risk of incident atrial fibrillation during follow-up compared with the non-exposed group after adjusting for the previously mentioned factors (hazard ratio 1.06, 95% confidence interval 1.03–1.10, p <0.001).

A dose-dependent relationship was observed, whereby each increase in the duration of weekly passive smoking was linked with an even greater risk of atrial fibrillation. For example, 7.8 hours of passive smoking per week was associated with an 11% higher likelihood of the heart rhythm disorder compared with no passive smoking. The risk of atrial fibrillation for passive smokers was raised in homes, workplaces, and outside spaces.

Dr. Lee said: “According to our study, once exposed to secondhand smoke, the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation begins to increase, with the risk escalating significantly as the exposure time lengthens. The finding that passive smoking is harmful not only in enclosed indoor spaces but also in outdoor environments underscores the importance of smoking bans to protect public health.”

Meeting: EHRA 2024

1 Comment on "Inhale at Your Own Risk: Even Brief Secondhand Smoke Exposure Increases Risk of Dangerous Heart Rhythm Disorder"

  1. Charles G. Shaver | April 13, 2024 at 8:18 am | Reply

    From the perspective of a relatively healthy now eighty year old non-smoking American male born and raised in a smoking household and exposed to secondhand smoke at work and in public places until banned, with documented food, food additive and a tobacco allergy, another fine example of how allergy (e.g., Dr. Arthur F. Coca [The Pulse Test, 1956] on “irregular pulse”) and officially (FDA in the US) approved food poisoning (soy and MSG, minimally) ignorant and incompetent researchers can misinterpret seriously flawed outdated studies to arrive at wrong conclusions and contribute to ineffective public policy (e.g., Mayor Bloomberg taxing soft drinks in New York; excessive taxation on cigarettes); helping to cause higher costs of living and/or increased inconvenience and/or stress to many, and delay real solutions to real problems. While smoking remains a dirty, smelly and unhealthy addiction/habit, it’s probably undiagnosed allergy to tobacco aggravated with FDA approved dietary added MSG which causes most of the harm from smoking cigarettes in the US (minimally, going/gone global with the so-called “Western Diet”).

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