Genotoxicity of environmental tobacco smoke: a review

Mutat Res. 2004 Nov;567(2-3):427-45. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2004.06.004.


Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), or second-hand smoke, is a widespread contaminant of indoor air in environments where smoking is not prohibited. It is a significant source of exposure to a large number of substances known to be hazardous to human health. Numerous expert panels have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to classify involuntary smoking (or passive smoking) as carcinogenic to humans. According to the recent evaluation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, involuntary smoking causes lung cancer in never-smokers with an excess risk in the order of 20% for women and 30% for men. The present paper reviews studies on genotoxicity and related endpoints carried out on ETS since the mid-1980s. The evidence from in vitro studies demonstrates induction of DNA strand breaks, formation of DNA adducts, mutagenicity in bacterial assays and cytogenetic effects. In vivo experiments in rodents have shown that exposure to tobacco smoke, whole-body exposure to mainstream smoke (MS), sidestream smoke (SS), or their mixture, causes DNA single strand breaks, aromatic adducts and oxidative damage to DNA, chromosome aberrations and micronuclei. Genotoxicity of transplacental exposure to ETS has also been reported. Review of human biomarker studies conducted among non-smokers with involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke indicates presence of DNA adducts, urinary metabolites of carcinogens, urinary mutagenicity, SCEs and hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HPRT) gene mutations (in newborns exposed through involuntary smoking of the mother). Studies on human lung cancer from smokers and never-smokers involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke suggest occurrence of similar kinds of genetic alterations in both groups. In conclusion, these overwhelming data are compatible with the current knowledge on the mechanisms of carcinogenesis of tobacco-related cancers, occurring not only in smokers but with a high biological plausibility also in involuntary smokers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • DNA Damage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution