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Second Hand Smoke Essay Conclusion Strategies


The topic of passive or involuntary smoking was first addressed in the 1972 U.S. Surgeon General’s report (The Health Consequences of Smoking, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare [USDHEW] 1972), only eight years after the first Surgeon General’s report on the health consequences of active smoking (USDHEW 1964). Surgeon General Dr. Jesse Steinfeld had raised concerns about this topic, leading to its inclusion in that report. According to the 1972 report, nonsmokers inhale the mixture of sidestream smoke given off by a smoldering cigarette and mainstream smoke exhaled by a smoker, a mixture now referred to as “secondhand smoke” or “environmental tobacco smoke.” Cited experimental studies showed that smoking in enclosed spaces could lead to high levels of cigarette smoke components in the air. For carbon monoxide (CO) specifically, levels in enclosed spaces could exceed levels then permitted in outdoor air. The studies supported a conclusion that “an atmosphere contaminated with tobacco smoke can contribute to the discomfort of many individuals” (USDHEW 1972, p. 7). The possibility that CO emitted from cigarettes could harm persons with chronic heart or lung disease was also mentioned.

Secondhand tobacco smoke was then addressed in greater depth in Chapter 4 (Involuntary Smoking) of the 1975 Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Smoking (USDHEW 1975). The chapter noted that involuntary smoking takes place when nonsmokers inhale both sidestream and exhaled mainstream smoke and that this “smoking” is “involuntary” when “the exposure occurs as an unavoidable consequence of breathing in a smoke-filled environment” (p. 87). The report covered exposures and potential health consequences of involuntary smoking, and the researchers concluded that smoking on buses and airplanes was annoying to nonsmokers and that involuntary smoking had potentially adverse consequences for persons with heart and lung diseases. Two studies on nicotine concentrations in nonsmokers raised concerns about nicotine as a contributing factor to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in nonsmokers.

The 1979 Surgeon General’s report, Smoking and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (USDHEW 1979), also contained a chapter entitled “Involuntary Smoking.” The chapter stressed that “attention to involuntary smoking is of recent vintage, and only limited information regarding the health effects of such exposure upon the nonsmoker is available” (p. 11–35). The chapter concluded with recommendations for research including epidemiologic and clinical studies. The 1982 Surgeon General’s report specifically addressed smoking and cancer (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS] 1982). By 1982, there were three published epidemiologic studies on involuntary smoking and lung cancer, and the 1982 Surgeon General’s report included a brief chapter on this topic. That chapter commented on the methodologic difficulties inherent in such studies, including exposure assessment, the lengthy interval during which exposures are likely to be relevant, and accounting for exposures to other carcinogens. Nonetheless, the report concluded that “Although the currently available evidence is not sufficient to conclude that passive or involuntary smoking causes lung cancer in nonsmokers, the evidence does raise concern about a possible serious public health problem” (p. 251).

Involuntary smoking was also reviewed in the 1984 report, which focused on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and smoking (USDHHS 1984). Chapter 7 (Passive Smoking) of that report included a comprehensive review of the mounting information on smoking by parents and the effects on respiratory health of their children, data on irritation of the eye, and the more limited evidence on pulmonary effects of involuntary smoking on adults. The chapter began with a compilation of measurements of tobacco smoke components in various indoor environments. The extent of the data had increased substantially since 1972. By 1984, the data included measurements of more specific indicators such as acrolein and nicotine, and less specific indicators such as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides, and CO. The report reviewed new evidence on exposures of nonsmokers using bio-markers, with substantial information on levels of cotinine, a major nicotine metabolite. The report anticipated future conclusions with regard to respiratory effects of parental smoking on child respiratory health (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1

Conclusions from previous Surgeon General’s reports on the health effects of secondhand smoke exposure

Involuntary smoking was the topic for the entire 1986 Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking (USDHHS 1986). In its 359 pages, the report covered the full breadth of the topic, addressing toxicology and dosimetry of tobacco smoke; the relevant evidence on active smoking; patterns of exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke; the epidemiologic evidence on involuntary smoking and disease risks for infants, children, and adults; and policies to control involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. That report concluded that involuntary smoking caused lung cancer in lifetime nonsmoking adults and was associated with adverse effects on respiratory health in children. The report also stated that simply separating smokers and nonsmokers within the same airspace reduced but did not eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. All of these findings are relevant to public health and public policy (Table 1.1). The lung cancer conclusion was based on extensive information already available on the carcinogenicity of active smoking, the qualitative similarities between secondhand and mainstream smoke, the uptake of tobacco smoke components by nonsmokers, and the epidemiologic data on involuntary smoking. The three major conclusions of the report (Table 1.2), led Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General at the time, to comment in his preface that “the right of smokers to smoke ends where their behavior affects the health and well-being of others; furthermore, it is the smokers’ responsibility to ensure that they do not expose nonsmokers to the potential [sic] harmful effects of tobacco smoke” (USDHHS 1986, p. xii).

Table 1.2

Major conclusions of the 1986 Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking

Two other reports published in 1986 also reached the conclusion that involuntary smoking increased the risk for lung cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization concluded that “passive smoking gives rise to some risk of cancer” (IARC 1986, p. 314). In its monograph on tobacco smoking, the agency supported this conclusion on the basis of the characteristics of sidestream and mainstream smoke, the absorption of tobacco smoke materials during an involuntary exposure, and the nature of dose-response relationships for carcinogenesis. In the same year, the National Research Council (NRC) also concluded that involuntary smoking increases the incidence of lung cancer in nonsmokers (NRC 1986). In reaching this conclusion, the NRC report cited the biologic plausibility of the association between exposure to secondhand smoke and lung cancer and the supporting epidemiologic evidence. On the basis of a pooled analysis of the epidemiologic data adjusted for bias, the report concluded that the best estimate for the excess risk of lung cancer in nonsmokers married to smokers was 25 percent, compared with nonsmokers married to nonsmokers. With regard to the effects of involuntary smoking on children, the NRC report commented on the literature linking secondhand smoke exposures from parental smoking to increased risks for respiratory symptoms and infections and to a slightly diminished rate of lung growth.

Since 1986, the conclusions with regard to both the carcinogenicity of secondhand smoke and the adverse effects of parental smoking on the health of children have been echoed and expanded (Table 1.3). In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its risk assessment of secondhand smoke as a carcinogen (USEPA 1992). The agency’s evaluation drew on toxicologic information on secondhand smoke and the extensive literature on active smoking. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the 31 epidemiologic studies of secondhand smoke and lung cancer published up to that time was central to the decision to classify secondhand smoke as a group A carcinogen—namely, a known human carcinogen. Estimates of approximately 3,000 U.S. lung cancer deaths per year in non-smokers were attributed to secondhand smoke. The report also covered other respiratory health effects in children and adults and concluded that involuntary smoking is causally associated with several adverse respiratory effects in children. There was also a quantitative risk assessment for the impact of involuntary smoking on childhood asthma and lower respiratory tract infections in young children.

Table 1.3

Selected major reports, other than those of the U.S. Surgeon General, addressing adverse effects from exposure to tobacco smoke

In the decade since the 1992 EPA report, scientific panels continued to evaluate the mounting evidence linking involuntary smoking to adverse health effects (Table 1.3). The most recent was the 2005 report of the California EPA (Cal/EPA 2005). Over time, research has repeatedly affirmed the conclusions of the 1986 Surgeon General’s reports and studies have further identified causal associations of involuntary smoking with diseases and other health disorders. The epidemiologic evidence on involuntary smoking has markedly expanded since 1986, as have the data on exposure to tobacco smoke in the many environments where people spend time. An understanding of the mechanisms by which involuntary smoking causes disease has also deepened.

As part of the environmental health hazard assessment, Cal/EPA identified specific health effects causally associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. The agency estimated the annual excess deaths in the United States that are attributable to secondhand smoke exposure for specific disorders: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), cardiac-related illnesses (ischemic heart disease), and lung cancer (Cal/EPA 2005). For the excess incidence of other health outcomes, either new estimates were provided or estimates from the 1997 health hazard assessment were used without any revisions (Cal/EPA 1997). Overall, Cal/EPA estimated that about 50,000 excess deaths result annually from exposure to secondhand smoke (Cal/EPA 2005). Estimated annual excess deaths for the total U.S. population are about 3,400 (a range of 3,423 to 8,866) from lung cancer, 46,000 (a range of 22,700 to 69,600) from cardiac-related illnesses, and 430 from SIDS. The agency also estimated that between 24,300 and 71,900 low birth weight or pre-term deliveries, about 202,300 episodes of childhood asthma (new cases and exacerbations), between 150,000 and 300,000 cases of lower respiratory illness in children, and about 789,700 cases of middle ear infections in children occur each year in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

This new 2006 Surgeon General’s report returns to the topic of involuntary smoking. The health effects of involuntary smoking have not received comprehensive coverage in this series of reports since 1986. Reports since then have touched on selected aspects of the topic: the 1994 report on tobacco use among young people (USDHHS 1994), the 1998 report on tobacco use among U.S. racial and ethnic minorities (USDHHS 1998), and the 2001 report on women and smoking (USDHHS 2001). As involuntary smoking remains widespread in the United States and elsewhere, the preparation of this report was motivated by the persistence of involuntary smoking as a public health problem and the need to evaluate the substantial new evidence reported since 1986. This report substantially expands the list of topics that were included in the 1986 report. Additional topics include SIDS, developmental effects, and other reproductive effects; heart disease in adults; and cancer sites beyond the lung. For some associations of involuntary smoking with adverse health effects, only a few studies were reviewed in 1986 (e.g., ear disease in children); now, the relevant literature is substantial. Consequently, this report uses meta-analysis to quantitatively summarize evidence as appropriate. Following the approach used in the 2004 report (The Health Consequences of Smoking, USDHHS 2004), this 2006 report also systematically evaluates the evidence for causality, judging the extent of the evidence available and then making an inference as to the nature of the association.

Organization of the Report

This twenty-ninth report of the Surgeon General examines the topics of toxicology of secondhand smoke, assessment and prevalence of exposure to secondhand smoke, reproductive and developmental health effects, respiratory effects of exposure to secondhand smoke in children and adults, cancer among adults, cardiovascular diseases, and the control of secondhand smoke exposure.

This introductory chapter (Chapter 1) includes a discussion of the concept of causation and introduces concepts of causality that are used throughout this report; this chapter also summarizes the major conclusions of the report. Chapter 2 (Toxicology of Secondhand Smoke) sets out a foundation for interpreting the observational evidence that is the focus of most of the following chapters. The discussion details the mechanisms that enable tobacco smoke components to injure the respiratory tract and cause nonmalignant and malignant diseases and other adverse effects. Chapter 3 (Assessment of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) provides a perspective on key factors that determine exposures of people to secondhand smoke in indoor environments, including building designs and operations, atmospheric markers of secondhand smoke, exposure models, and biomarkers of exposure to secondhand smoke. Chapter 4 (Prevalence of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) summarizes findings that focus on nicotine measurements in the air and cotinine measurements in biologic materials. The chapter includes exposures in the home, workplace, public places, and special populations. Chapter 5 (Reproductive and Developmental Effects from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) reviews the health effects on reproduction, on infants, and on child development. Chapter 6 (Respiratory Effects in Children from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) examines the effects of parental smoking on the respiratory health of children. Chapter 7 (Cancer Among Adults from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) summarizes the evidence on cancer of the lung, breast, nasal sinuses, and the cervix. Chapter 8 (Cardiovascular Diseases from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) discusses coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and subclinical vascular disease. Chapter 9 (Respiratory Effects in Adults from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke) examines odor and irritation, respiratory symptoms, lung function, and respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chapter 10 (Control of Secondhand Smoke Exposure) considers measures used to control exposure to secondhand smoke in public places, including legislation, education, and approaches based on building designs and operations. The report concludes with “A Vision for the Future.” Major conclusions of the report were distilled from the chapter conclusions and appear later in this chapter.

Preparation of the Report

This report of the Surgeon General was prepared by the Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. DHHS. Initial chapters were written by 22 experts who were selected because of their knowledge of a particular topic. The contributions of the initial experts were consolidated into 10 major chapters that were then reviewed by more than 40 peer reviewers. The entire manuscript was then sent to more than 30 scientists and experts who reviewed it for its scientific integrity. After each review cycle, the drafts were revised by the scientific editors on the basis of the experts’ comments. Subsequently, the report was reviewed by various institutes and agencies within U.S. DHHS. Publication lags, even short ones, prevent an up-to-the-minute inclusion of all recently published articles and data. Therefore, by the time the public reads this report, there may be additional published studies or data. To provide published information as current as possible, this report includes an Appendix of more recent studies that represent major additions to the literature.

This report is also accompanied by a companion database of key evidence that is accessible through the Internet ( The database includes a uniform description of the studies and results on the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke that were presented in a format compatible with abstraction into standardized tables. Readers of the report may access these data for additional analyses, tables, or figures.

Evidence Evaluation

Following the model of the 1964 report, the Surgeon General’s reports on smoking have included comprehensive compilations of the evidence on the health effects of smoking. The evidence is analyzed to identify causal associations between smoking and disease according to enunciated principles, sometimes referred to as the “Surgeon General’s criteria” or the “Hill” criteria (after Sir Austin Bradford Hill) for causality (USDHEW 1964; USDHHS 2004). Application of these criteria involves covering all relevant observational and experimental evidence. The criteria, offered in a brief chapter of the 1964 report entitled “Criteria for Judgment,” included (1) the consistency of the association, (2) the strength of the association, (3) the specificity of the association, (4) the temporal relationship of the association, and (5) the coherence of the association. Although these criteria have been criticized (e.g., Rothman and Greenland 1998), they have proved useful as a framework for interpreting evidence on smoking and other postulated causes of disease, and for judging whether causality can be inferred.

In the 2004 report of the Surgeon General, The Health Consequences of Smoking, the framework for interpreting evidence on smoking and health was revisited in depth for the first time since the 1964 report (USDHHS 2004). The 2004 report provided a four-level hierarchy for interpreting evidence (Table 1.4). The categories acknowledge that evidence can be “suggestive” but not adequate to infer a causal relationship, and also allows for evidence that is “suggestive of no causal relationship.” Since the 2004 report, the individual chapter conclusions have consistently used this four-level hierarchy (Table 1.4), but evidence syntheses and other summary statements may use either the term “increased risk” or “cause” to describe instances in which there is sufficient evidence to conclude that active or involuntary smoking causes a disease or condition. This four-level framework also sharply and completely separates conclusions regarding causality from the implications of such conclusions.

Table 1.4

Four-level hierarchy for classifying the strength of causal inferences based on available evidence

That same framework was used in this report on involuntary smoking and health. The criteria dating back to the 1964 Surgeon General’s report remain useful as guidelines for evaluating evidence (USDHEW 1964), but they were not intended to be applied strictly or as a “checklist” that needed to be met before the designation of “causal” could be applied to an association. In fact, for involuntary smoking and health, several of the criteria will not be met for some associations. Specificity, referring to a unique exposure-disease relationship (e.g., the association between thalidomide use during pregnancy and unusual birth defects), can be set aside as not relevant, as all of the health effects considered in this report have causes other than involuntary smoking. Associations are considered more likely to be causal as the strength of an association increases because competing explanations become less plausible alternatives. However, based on knowledge of dosimetry and mechanisms of injury and disease causation, the risk is anticipated to be only slightly or modestly increased for some associations of involuntary smoking with disease, such as lung cancer, particularly when the very strong relative risks found for active smokers are compared with those for lifetime nonsmokers. The finding of only a small elevation in risk, as in the example of spousal smoking and lung cancer risk in lifetime nonsmokers, does not weigh against a causal association; however, alternative explanations for a risk of a small magnitude need full exploration and cannot be so easily set aside as alternative explanations for a stronger association. Consistency, coherence, and the temporal relationship of involuntary smoking with disease are central to the interpretations in this report. To address coherence, the report draws not only on the evidence for involuntary smoking, but on the even more extensive literature on active smoking and disease.

Although the evidence reviewed in this report comes largely from investigations of secondhand smoke specifically, the larger body of evidence on active smoking is also relevant to many of the associations that were evaluated. The 1986 report found secondhand smoke to be qualitatively similar to mainstream smoke inhaled by the smoker and concluded that secondhand smoke would be expected to have “a toxic and carcinogenic potential that would not be expected to be qualitatively different from that of MS [mainstream smoke]” (USDHHS 1986, p. 23). The 2004 report of the Surgeon General revisited the health consequences of active smoking (USDHHS 2004), and the conclusions substantially expanded the list of diseases and conditions caused by smoking. Chapters in the present report consider the evidence on active smoking that is relevant to biologic plausibility for causal associations between involuntary smoking and disease. The reviews included in this report cover evidence identified through search strategies set out in each chapter. Of necessity, the evidence on mechanisms was selectively reviewed. However, an attempt was made to cover all health studies through specified target dates. Because of the substantial amount of time involved in preparing this report, lists of new key references published after these cut-off dates are included in an Appendix. Literature reviews were extended when new evidence was sufficient to possibly change the level of a causal conclusion.

Methodologic Issues

Much of the evidence on the health effects of involuntary smoking comes from observational epidemiologic studies that were carried out to test hypotheses related to secondhand smoke and risk for diseases and other adverse health effects. The challenges faced in carrying out these studies reflect those of observational research generally: assessment of the relevant exposures and outcomes with sufficient validity and precision, selection of an appropriate study design, identification of an appropriate and sufficiently large study population, and collection of information on other relevant factors that may confound or modify the association being studied. The challenge of accurately classifying secondhand smoke exposures confronts all studies of such exposures, and consequently the literature on approaches to and limitations of exposure classification is substantial. Sources of bias that can affect the findings of epidemiologic studies have been widely discussed (Rothman and Greenland 1998), both in general and in relation to studies of involuntary smoking. Concerns about bias apply to any study of an environmental agent and disease risk: misclassification of exposures or outcomes, confounding effect modification, and proper selection of study participants. In addition, the generalizability of findings from one population to another (external validity) further determines the value of evidence from a study. Another methodologic concern affecting secondhand smoke literature comes from the use of meta-analysis to combine the findings of epidemiologic studies; general concerns related to the use of meta-analysis for observational data and more specific concerns related to involuntary smoking have also been raised. This chapter considers these methodologic issues in anticipation of more specific treatment in the following chapters.

Classification of Secondhand Smoke Exposure

For secondhand smoke, as for any environmental factor that may be a cause of disease, the exposure assessment might encompass the time and place of the exposure, cumulative exposures, exposure during a particular time, or a recent exposure (Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997; Jaakkola and Samet 1999). For example, exposures to secondhand smoke across the full life span may be of interest for lung cancer, while only more recent exposures may be relevant to the exacerbation of asthma. For CHD, both temporally remote and current exposures may affect risk. Assessments of exposures are further complicated by the multiplicity of environments where exposures take place and the difficulty of characterizing the exposure in some locations, such as public places or workplaces. Additionally, exposures probably vary qualitatively and quantitatively over time and across locations because of temporal changes and geographic differences in smoking patterns.

Nonetheless, researchers have used a variety of approaches for exposure assessments in epidemiologic studies of adverse health effects from involuntary smoking. Several core concepts that are fundamental to these approaches are illustrated in Figure 1.1 (Samet and Jaakkola 1999). Cigarette smoking is, of course, the source of most secondhand smoke in the United States, followed by pipes, cigars, and other products. Epidemiologic studies generally focus on assessing the exposure, which is the contact with secondhand smoke. The concentrations of secondhand smoke components in a space depend on the number of smokers and the rate at which they are smoking, the volume into which the smoke is distributed, the rate at which the air in the space exchanges with uncontaminated air, and the rate at which the secondhand smoke is removed from the air. Concentration, exposure, and dose differ in their definitions, although the terms are sometimes used without sharp distinctions. However, surrogate indicators that generally describe a source of exposure may also be used to assess the exposure, such as marriage to a smoker or the number of cigarettes smoked in the home. Biomarkers can provide an indication of an exposure or possibly the dose, but for secondhand smoke they are used for recent exposure only.

Figure 1.1

The determinants of exposure, dose, and biologically effective dose that underlie the development of health effects from smoking. Source: Samet and Jaakkola (more...)

People are exposed to secondhand smoke in a number of different places, often referred to as “microenvironments” (NRC 1991). A microenvironment is a definable location that has a constant concentration of the contaminant of interest, such as secondhand smoke, during the time that a person is there. Some key microenvironments for secondhand smoke include the home, the workplace, public places, and transportation environments (Klepeis 1999). Based on the microenvironmental model, total exposure can be estimated as the weighted average of the concentrations of secondhand smoke or indicator compounds, such as nicotine, in the microenvironments where time is spent; the weights are the time spent in each microenvironment. Klepeis (1999) illustrates the application of the microenvironmental model with national data from the National Human Activity Pattern Survey conducted by the EPA. His calculations yield an overall estimate of exposure to airborne particles from smoking and of the contributions to this exposure from various microenvironments.

Much of the epidemiologic evidence addresses the consequences of an exposure in a particular microenvironment, such as the home (spousal smoking and lung cancer risk or maternal smoking and risk for asthma exacerbation), or the workplace (exacerbation of asthma by the presence of smokers). Some studies have attempted to cover multiple microenvironments and to characterize exposures over time. For example, in the multicenter study of secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer carried out in the United States, Fontham and colleagues (1994) assessed exposures during childhood, in workplaces, and at home during adulthood. Questionnaires that assess exposures have been the primary tool used in epidemiologic studies of secondhand smoke and disease. Measurement of biomarkers has been added in some studies, either as an additional and complementary exposure assessment approach or for validating questionnaire responses. Some studies have also measured components of secondhand smoke in the air.

Questionnaires generally address sources of exposure in microenvironments and can be tailored to address the time period of interest. Questionnaires represent the only approach that can be used to assess exposures retrospectively over a life span, because available biomarkers only reflect exposures over recent days or, at most, weeks. Questionnaires on secondhand smoke exposure have been assessed for their reliability and validity, generally based on comparisons with either biomarker or air monitoring data as the “gold” standard (Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997). Two studies evaluated the reliability of questionnaires on lifetime exposures (Pron et al. 1988; Coultas et al. 1989). Both showed a high degree of repeatability for questions concerning whether a spouse had smoked, but a lower reliability for responses concerning the quantitative aspects of an exposure. Emerson and colleagues (1995) evaluated the repeatability of information from parents of children with asthma. They found a high reliability for parent-reported tobacco use and for the number of cigarettes to which the child was exposed in the home during the past week.

To assess validity, questionnaire reports of current or recent exposures have been compared with levels of cotinine and other biomarkers. These studies tend to show a moderate correlation between levels of cotinine and questionnaire indicators of exposures (Kawachi and Colditz 1996; Cal/EPA 1997; Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997). However, cotinine levels reflect not only exposure but metabolism and excretion (Benowitz 1999). Consequently, exposure is only one determinant of variation in cotinine levels among persons; there also are individual variations in metabolism and excretion rates. In spite of these sources of variability, mean levels of cotinine vary as anticipated across categories of self-reported exposures (Cal/EPA 1997; Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997), and self-reported exposures are moderately associated with measured levels of markers (Cal/EPA 1997; Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997).

Biomarkers are also used for assessing exposures to secondhand smoke. A number of biomarkers are available, but they vary in their specificity and in the dynamics of the temporal relationship between the exposure and the marker level (Cal/EPA 1997; Benowitz 1999). These markers include specific tobacco smoke components (nicotine) or metabolites (cotinine and tobacco-specific nitrosamines), nonspecific biomarkers (thiocyanate and CO), adducts with tobacco smoke components or metabolites (4-amino-biphenyl hemoglobin adducts, benzo[a]pyrene DNA adducts, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon albumin adducts), and nonspecific assays (urinary mutagenicity). Cotinine has been the most widely used biomarker, primarily because of its specificity, half-life, and ease of measurement in body fluids (e.g., urine, blood, and saliva). Biomarkers are discussed in detail in Chapter 3 (Assessment of Exposure to Secondhand Smoke).

Some epidemiologic studies have also incorporated air monitoring, either direct personal sampling or the indirect approach based on the microenvironmental model. Nicotine, present in the gas phase of secondhand smoke, can be monitored passively with a special filter or actively using a pump and a sorbent. Hammond and Leaderer (1987) first described a diffusion monitor for the passive sampling of nicotine in 1987; this device has now been widely used to assess concentrations in different environments and to study health effects. Airborne particles have also been measured using active monitoring devices.

Each of these approaches for assessing exposures has strengths and limitations, and preference for one over another will depend on the research question and its context (Jaakkola and Jaakkola 1997; Jaakkola and Samet 1999). Questionnaires can be used to characterize sources of exposures, such as smoking by parents. With air concentrations of markers and time-activity information, estimates of secondhand smoke exposures can be made with the microenvironmental model. Biomarkers provide exposure measures that reflect the patterns of exposure and the kinetics of the marker; the cotinine level in body fluids, for example, reflects an exposure during several days. Air monitoring may be useful for validating measurements of exposure. Exposure assessment strategies are matched to the research question and often employ a mixture of approaches determined by feasibility and cost constraints.

Misclassification of Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Misclassification may occur when classifying exposures, outcomes, confounding factors, or modifying factors. Misclassification may be differential on either exposure or outcome, or it may be random (Armstrong et al. 1992). Differential or nonrandom misclassification may either increase or decrease estimates of effect, while random misclassification tends to reduce the apparent effect and weaken the relationship of exposure with disease risk. In studies of secondhand smoke and disease risk, exposure misclassification has been a major consideration in the interpretation of the evidence, although misclassification of health outcome measures has not been a substantial issue in this research. The consequences for epidemiologic studies of misclassification in general are well established (Rothman and Greenland 1998).

An extensive body of literature on the classification of exposures to secondhand smoke is reviewed in this and other chapters, as well as in some publications on the consequences of misclassification (Wu 1999). Two general patterns of exposure misclassification are of concern to secondhand smoke: (1) random misclassification that is not differential by the presence or absence of the health outcome and (2) systematic misclassification that is differential by the health outcome. In studying the health effects of secondhand smoke in adults, there is a further concern as to the classification of the active smoking status (never, current, or former smoking); in studies of children, the accuracy of secondhand smoke exposure classification is the primary methodologic issue around exposure assessment, but unreported active smoking by adolescents is also a concern.

With regard to random misclassification of secondhand smoke exposures, there is an inherent degree of unavoidable measurement error in the exposure measures used in epidemiologic studies. Questionnaires generally assess contact with sources of an exposure (e.g., smoking in the home or work-place) and cannot capture all exposures nor the intensity of exposures; biomarkers provide an exposure index for a particular time window and have intrinsic variability. Some building-related factors that determine an exposure cannot be assessed accurately by a questionnaire, such as the rate of air exchange and the size of the microenvironment where time is spent, nor can concentrations be assessed accurately by subjective reports of the perceived level of tobacco smoke. In general, random misclassification of exposures tends to reduce the likelihood that studies of secondhand smoke exposure will find an effect. This type of misclassification lessens the contrast between exposure groups, because some truly exposed persons are placed in the unexposed group and some truly unexposed persons are placed in the exposed group. Differential misclassification, also a concern, may increase or decrease associations, depending on the pattern of misreporting.

One particular form of misclassification has been raised with regard to secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer: the classification of some current or former smokers as lifetime nonsmokers (USEPA 1992; Lee and Forey 1995; Hackshaw et al. 1997; Wu 1999

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