Acute exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and heart rate variability

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Jul;109(7):711-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109711.


Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) has been associated with cardiovascular mortality. Pathophysiologic pathways leading from ETS exposure to cardiopulmonary disease are still being explored. Reduced cardiac autonomic function, as measured by heart rate variability (HRV), has been associated with cardiac vulnerability and may represent an important pathophysiologic mechanism linking ETS and risk of cardiac mortality. In this study we evaluated acute ETS exposure in a commercial airport with changes in HRV in 16 adult nonsmokers. We conducted ambulatory electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring for 8-hr periods while participants alternated 2 hr in nonsmoking and smoking areas. Nicotine and respirable suspended particle concentrations and participants' blood oxygen saturation were also monitored. We calculated time and frequency domain measures of HRV for periods in and out of the smoking area, and we evaluated associations with ETS using comparative statistics and regression modeling. ETS exposure was negatively associated with all measures of HRV. During exposure periods, we observed an average decrement of approximately 12% in the standard deviation of all normal-to-normal heart beat intervals (an estimate of overall HRV). ETS exposures were not associated with mean heart rate or blood oxygen saturation. Altered cardiac autonomic function, assessed by decrements in HRV, is associated with acute exposure to ETS and may be part of the pathophysiologic mechanisms linking ETS exposure and increased cardiac vulnerability.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Particle Size
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution