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Environmental tobacco smoke and risk of respiratory cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in former smokers and never smokers in the EPIC prospective study

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:277
  1. P Vineis (p.vineis{at}, epidemiologist1,
  2. L Airoldi,
  3. F Veglia,
  4. L Olgiati,
  5. R Pastorelli,
  6. H Autrup,
  7. A Dunning,
  8. S Garte,
  9. E Gormally,
  10. P Hainaut,
  11. C Malaveille,
  12. G Matullo,
  13. M Peluso,
  14. K Overvad,
  15. A Tjonneland,
  16. F Clavel-Chapelon,
  17. H Boeing,
  18. V Krogh,
  19. D Palli,
  20. S Panico,
  21. R Tumino,
  22. B Bueno-De-Mesquita,
  23. P Peeters,
  24. G Berglund,
  25. G Hallmans,
  26. R Saracci,
  27. E Riboli
  1. 1Imperial College, London W2 1PG
  1. Correspondence to: P Vineis
  • Accepted 23 November 2004


Objectives To investigate the association between environmental tobacco smoke, plasma cotinine concentration, and respiratory cancer or death.

Design Nested case-control study within the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC).

Participants 303 020 people from the EPIC cohort (total 500 000) who had never smoked or who had stopped smoking for at least 10 years, 123 479 of whom provided information on exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Cases were people who developed respiratory cancers or died from respiratory conditions. Controls were matched for sex, age (plus or minus 5 years), smoking status, country of recruitment, and time elapsed since recruitment.

Main outcome measures Newly diagnosed cancer of lung, pharynx, and larynx; deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. Plasma cotinine concentration was measured in 1574 people.

Results Over seven years of follow up, 97 people had newly diagnosed lung cancer, 20 had upper respiratory cancers (pharynx, larynx), and 14 died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. In the whole cohort exposure to environmental tobacco smoke was associated with increased risks (hazard ratio 1.30, 95% confidence interval 0.87 to 1.95, for all respiratory diseases; 1.34, 0.85 to 2.13, for lung cancer alone). Higher results were found in the nested case-control study (odds ratio 1.70, 1.02 to 2.82, for respiratory diseases; 1.76, 0.96 to 3.23, for lung cancer alone). Odds ratios were consistently higher in former smokers than in those who had never smoked; the association was limited to exposure related to work. Cotinine concentration was clearly associated with self reported exposure (3.30, 2.07 to 5.23, for detectable/non-detectable cotinine), but it was not associated with the risk of respiratory diseases or lung cancer. Frequent exposure to environmental tobacco smoke during childhood was associated with lung cancer in adulthood (hazard ratio 3.63, 1.19 to 11.11, for daily exposure for many hours).

Conclusions This large prospective study, in which the smoking status was supported by cotinine measurements, confirms that environmental tobacco smoke is a risk factor for lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, particularly in ex-smokers.


  • Accepted 23 November 2004
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