HC Deb 09 April 2003 vol 403 cc315-6W
John Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the effects on health of(a) passive smoking and (b) poor air quality. [105422]

Ms Blears

The independent Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health concluded in its 1998 Report thatExposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of lung cancer and, in those with long-term exposure, the increased risk is in the order of 20–30 per cent. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of ischaemic heart disease and if current published estimates of magnitude of relative risk are validated, such exposures represents a substantial public hazard. Smoking in the presence of infants and children is a cause of serious respiratory illness and asthmatic attacks. Sudden infant death syndrome, the main cause of post-neonatal death in the first year of life, is associated with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. The association is judged to be one of cause and effect. Middle ear disease in children is linked with parental smoking and this association is likely to be causal.

The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) and its predecessor, the Advisory Group on the Medical Aspects of Air Pollution Episodes, has published several reports assessing the effects on health of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, particles, pollutant mixtures. Executive summaries of these reports are on the COMEAP website at www.doh.gov.uk/comeap/index.htm

The report on the quantification of the effects of air pollution on health in the United Kingdom, published in 1998, concluded that the levels of air pollution in 1996 contributed to the earlier deaths of up to 24,000 people. Air pollution is thought to worsen the condition of those that are already ill with heart and lung disease and to bring forward the dates of their deaths. The average loss of life expectancy is unknown but is thought to be days, weeks or months rather than years. The report also concluded that air pollution could contribute to a similar number of respiratory hospital admissions. Levels of air pollution have declined since 1996.

In its report published in 2001, the committee concluded that it was more likely than not that a causal association exists between long-term exposure to particulate air pollution and mortality although the Committee also emphasised the uncertainties. It was also concluded that the effect of long-term exposure on life expectancy was greater than the effects of short-term exposure described in the 1998 report.

The Department of Health has commissioned a research programme on the effects of air pollution on health. The relevant research projects are listed on the Department's website at www.doh.gov.uk/airpollution/index.htm.

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