Background: Little is known about risk perception of secondhand smoke (SHS) and its changes over time. The aim of the study was to examine the role of smoking status and demographics on perceiving a range of health risks of SHS exposure and their trends over time among a representative sample of the Irish general population.
Methods: This study included 2 repeated cross-sectional samples of Irish adults in 1999 (n = 1,240) and 2006 (n = 1,000), in addition to a representative sample of General Practitioners (2006: n = 248), sampled as a health care professional's view on SHS risk. Participants were asked to consider whether a nonsmoker, exposed to SHS, is at an increased risk of asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis, diabetes, and ear infections in children.
Results: There was a significant increase in the general population's risk perception of SHS for asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, and bronchitis from 1999 to 2006. Not even half of the general population in 1999 and in 2006 perceived a risk for the development of ear infections in children with SHS exposure (45% in 1999, 46% in 2006). With the exception of ear infections in children in 2006, the risk perception of all diseases differed significantly by smoking status; smokers' risk perception of SHS was significantly lower. Encouraging results suggest that the differences in risk perception between smokers and nonsmokers have decreased.
Conclusion: Risk perception of SHS exposure has improved as has the gap in perception between smokers and nonsmokers. This research points to a lack of awareness among the general population of the risk perception of SHS exposure to children.