Study Confirms Second Hand Smoke Worse for Children

In a study to be presented at the annual American Society of Anesthesiologists that concludes today in Orlando, Florida, researchers will discuss how children exposed to secondhand smoke often have levels of <"">carbon monoxide in their blood similar to those of adult smokers.  Worse, children frequently test with higher levels than adults exposed to secondhand smoke and the younger the child, the greater the potential for exposure.  The physiology of children—especially the youngest—is different from that of adults,” said Dr. Branden E. Yee, of the anesthesiology department at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, on behalf of the society.  “Children breathe in a greater amount of air per body weight compared to adults.”

The study measured carboxyhemoglobin levels in 200 children between the ages of one and 12.  Carboxyhemoglobin is formed when carbon monoxide binds to the blood.  While complete effects of high levels of carboxyhemoglobin are not entirely known, it is known that long-term, low-level exposure causes changes in heart and lung tissue, impeding distribution of oxygen to body tissue.  Also, while household and environmental factors—stoves, heaters, and automobiles—are some of the sources of carbon monoxide exposure, secondhand cigarette smoke is typically the likeliest source of elevated carboxyhemoglobin, the researchers said.

Yee said educating parents about the need to change their smoking habits, especially around children, is vital.  “Personalized education coupled with the act of physically showing a parent the carboxyhemoglobin measurement in his or her child’s blood may provide a graphic and concrete message to that parent,” he added.

In recent years, secondhand smoke has emerged as a public health threat, being classified as a carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency

(EPA) and linked to heart disease, lung cancer, and a number of respiratory ailments, including asthma and chronic bronchitis.  Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.  According to the American Lung Association, 35 percent of American children live in homes where regular smoking occurs.

Experts have long known that exposure to secondhand smoke either prenatally or early in life can raise a child’s risk of developing asthma symptoms, allergies, and respiratory symptoms in children.  Second hand smoke has also been found to slows lung growth in children and also causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children.

There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure.  Even brief exposure can be dangerous.  Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a complex mixture of gases and particles that include smoke from the burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe tip as well as exhaled smoke and contains at least 250 chemicals known to be toxic, including over 50 that can cause cancer.  Exposure causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults; nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their heart disease risk by 25–30% and their lung cancer risk by 20–30%.  Those with heart disease are at especially high risk.

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