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Smoking duration alone provides stronger risk estimates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than pack-years
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  • Published on:
    Smoking duration, smoke intensity or pack-years: what is the best method for exposure ascertainment?
    • Esther A Boudewijns, Researcher Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University, Maastricht
    • Other Contributors:
      • Onno CP van Schayck, Professor of Preventive Medicine

    The article of Bhatt et al addresses an important topic (1). The authors assessed the relative contribution of intensity and duration of tobacco smoke exposure to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They concluded that smoking duration alone provides stronger risk than the composite index of pack years. In other words, the effect of long and low intensity exposure has a stronger association with COPD than short exposures of high intensities. The article of Marks consents this finding, concluding that pack years are a suboptimal index of exposure (2).

    A major limitation of the study of Bhatt, which surprisingly is not stated as such, is the use of a cross-sectional design that does not allow drawing causal conclusions. The conclusions drawn therefore might be flawed.

    Selection bias due the healthy ‘survivor’ effect might have occurred. The duration of smoking could have been influenced by the deleterious effects a person experiences from the exposure to smoke. Those with a long smoke duration are more likely not to experience (or experience less) health issues due to smoking, and might therefore have less severe (or no) COPD than those with a short smoke duration. In line with this, selective ‘drop-out’ of the more diseased persons may have biased the results.

    Furthermore, the authors use retrospective data, while this often leads to recall bias. Participants often do not precisely remember the numbers of cigarettes smoked...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.