Tobacco smoking, passive smoking, and indoor air pollution from biomass fuels have been implicated as risk factors for tuberculosis (TB) infection, disease, and death. Tobacco smoking and indoor air pollution are persistent or growing exposures in regions where TB poses a major health risk. We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to quantitatively assess the association between these exposures and the risk of infection, disease, and death from TB.
We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies reporting effect estimates and 95% confidence intervals on how tobacco smoking, passive smoke exposure, and indoor air pollution are associated with TB. We identified 33 papers on tobacco smoking and TB, five papers on passive smoking and TB, and five on indoor air pollution and TB. We found substantial evidence that tobacco smoking is positively associated with TB, regardless of the specific TB outcomes. Compared with people who do not smoke, smokers have an increased risk of having a positive tuberculin skin test, of having active TB, and of dying from TB. Although we also found evidence that passive smoking and indoor air pollution increased the risk of TB disease, these associations are less strongly supported by the available evidence.
There is consistent evidence that tobacco smoking is associated with an increased risk of TB. The finding that passive smoking and biomass fuel combustion also increase TB risk should be substantiated with larger studies in future. TB control programs might benefit from a focus on interventions aimed at reducing tobacco and indoor air pollution exposures, especially among those at high risk for exposure to TB.
Evidence from a number of studies suggest that tobacco smoking, environmental tobacco smoke, and indoor air pollution from biomass fuels is associated with an increased risk of tuberculosis.
Tobacco smoking has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Smokers are at higher risk than nonsmokers for a very wide variety of illnesses, many of which are life-threatening. Inhaling tobacco smoke, whether this is active (when an individual smokes) or passive (when an individual is exposed to cigarette smoke in their environment) has also been associated with tuberculosis (TB). Many people infected with the TB bacterium never develop disease, but it is thought that people infected with TB who also smoke are far more likely to develop the symptoms of disease, and to have worse outcomes when they do.
The researchers were specifically interested in the link between smoking and TB. They wanted to try to work out the overall increase in risk for getting TB in people who smoke, as compared with people who do not smoke. In this study, the researchers wanted to separately study the risks for different types of exposure to smoke, so, for example, what the risks were for people who actively smoke as distinct from people who are exposed to smoke from others. The researchers also wanted to calculate the association between TB and exposure to indoor pollution from burning fuels such as wood and charcoal.
In carrying out this study, the researchers wanted to base their conclusions on all the relevant information that was already available worldwide. Therefore they carried out a systematic review. A systematic review involves setting out the research question that is being asked and then developing a search strategy to find all the meaningful evidence relating to the particular question under study. For this systematic review, the researchers wanted to find all published research in the biomedical literature that looked at human participants and dealt with the association between active smoking, passive smoking, indoor air pollution and TB. Studies were included if they were published in English, Russian, or Chinese, and included enough data for the researchers to calculate a number for the increase in TB risk. The researchers initially found 1,397 research studies but then narrowed that down to 38 that fit their criteria. Then specific pieces of data were extracted from each of those studies and in some cases the researchers combined data to produce overall calculations for the increase in TB risk. Separate assessments were done for different aspects of “TB risk,” namely, TB infection, TB disease, and mortality from TB. The data showed an approximately 2-fold increase in risk of TB infection among smokers as compared with nonsmokers. The researchers found that all studies evaluating the link between smoking and TB disease or TB mortality showed an association, but they did not combine these data together because of wide potential differences between the studies. Finally, all studies looking at passive smoking found an association with TB, as did some of those examining the link with indoor air pollution.
The findings here show that smoking is associated with an increased risk of TB infection, disease, and deaths from TB. The researchers found much more data on the risks for active smoking than on passive smoking or indoor air pollution. Tobacco smoking is increasing in many countries where TB is already a problem. These results therefore suggest that it is important for health policy makers to further develop strategies for controlling tobacco use in order to reduce the impact of TB worldwide.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040020
The World Health Organization (WHO)'s Tobacco Free Initiative provides resources on research and policy related to tobacco control, its network of initiatives, and other relevant information
WHO also has a tuberculosis minisite
The US National Library of Medicine's MedLinePlus provides a set of links and resources about smoking, including news, overviews, recent research, statistics, and others
The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General provides information on the health consequences of smoking
Tobacco Country Profiles provides information on smoking in different countries