Characteristics of nonsmoking women exposed to spouses who smoke: epidemiologic study on environment and health in women from four Italian areas

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Dec;108(12):1171-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.001081171.


The aim of this study was to evaluate whether risk factors associated with cardiovascular or respiratory diseases and lung cancer occur differently among nonsmoking women in Italy with and without exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) from husbands that smoke. We performed a cross-sectional study of 1,938 nonsmoking women in four areas of Italy. Data on respiratory and cardiovascular risk factors and on diet were collected using self-administered questionnaires. Medical examinations and blood tests were administered; urine cotinine levels were measured. Nonsmoking women ever exposed to husbands' smoking were compared with unexposed women for several factors: education, husband's education, household crowding, number of children, current or past occupation, exposure to toxic substances at work, parental diseases, self-perceived health status, physician-diagnosed hypertension, hypercholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, chronic respiratory diseases, blood pressure medications, lifestyle and preventive behaviors, dietary variables, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, body mass index, waist-hip ratio, triceps skin folds, plasma antioxidant (pro-) vitamins (- and ss-carotene, retinol, l-ascorbic acid, -tocopherol, lycopene), serum total and HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Women married to smokers were more likely to be less educated, to be married to a less educated husband, and to live in more crowded dwellings than women married to nonsmokers. Women married to smokers were significantly less likely to eat cooked [odds ratio (OR) = 0.72; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.55-0.93] or fresh vegetables (OR = 0.63; CI, 0.49-0.82) more than once a day than women not exposed to ETS. Exposed women had significantly higher urinary cotinine than unexposed subjects (difference: 2.94 ng/mg creatinine). All the other variables were not more prevalent among exposed compared to unexposed subjects. The results regarding demographic factors are easily explained by the social class distribution of smoking in Italy. A lower intake of vegetables among exposed women in our study is consistent with the available literature. Overall, our results do not support previous claims of more frequent risk factors for cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases among ETS-exposed subjects. In Italy, as elsewhere in Europe and North America, women who have never smoked but are married to smokers are likely to be of lower social class than those married to never-smokers. However, once socioeconomic differences are considered, the possibility of confounding in studies on the health effects of ETS is minimal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cotinine / urine
  • Demography
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Spouses
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Cotinine