The contrary effects of secondhand smoke are well-documented—the CDC predicts that tens of thousands of nonsmokers die every year in the U.S. due to exposure to someone else’s cigarette habit. But a new study out on Monday suggests that the secondhand effects of alcohol consumption are another source of serious harm, with one in five Americans hurt by another person’s drinking yearly.
That alcohol always injures and kills people is obvious. But it’s worth pointing out the fine-scale of damage it can cause. Last year, for example, a report by the World Health Organization observed that drinking directly added to just over 5 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2016. These alcohol-related deaths ranged from car accidents and overtreatments to terminal cases of liver cancer and other incurable diseases. Yet there’s been considerably less work done to count the indirect damage that problem drinking can cause, according to research, author Katherine Karriker-Jaffe, a senior scientist at the California-based nonprofit Public Health Institute.
“These harms are missed if we only focus on the problems that heavy drinkers experience as a result of their own alcohol use,” Karriker-Jaffe, who works at the institute’s Alcohol Research Group, said Gizmodo via email. “We have been collecting information on secondhand harms from drinking since the year 2000, but this research shows new data on a range of harms that we haven’t asked about before on such a broad scale in the U.S.”
The study, announced in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs, relies on data from two nationally representative surveys taken of more than 8,000 adults over the age of 18 in 2015. Based on that, Karriker-Jaffe and her team determined that 21 percent of women and 23 percent of men in the U.S. had experienced some form of secondhand harm from alcohol in the past year. But there were differences in the types and sources of harm endured by either gender.