Study Suggests Children Exposed to Second-Hand Smoke Are More Likely to Become Smokers Themselves

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that children exposed to second-hand may be more likely to become smokers themselves as adolescents.

The study, which considered about 200 Montreal school children, found that children with elevated cotinine levels (a chemical related to tobacco smoke) in their saliva were twice as likely to smoke as teenagers.

As part of a larger study on asthma in 1990-92, researchers had collected saliva from 191 children aged five to 12. The samples were tested for cotinine and the children and their parents were asked information on their home environment, including whether the parents smoked.

In 1994-96, the children were questioned about their smoking habits and given a lung-capacity test.  In this survey, 44% of the 191 children smoked at least one cigarette a week for a month. Some of the ten-year-olds smoked more than ten cigarettes a week.

The results, which were independent of sex and socio-economic factors, indicated puberty often triggered children to smoke, with less than 18% of pre-pubescent kids reporting using tobacco.

The study observed that the major factor that contributed to children becoming smokers was the presence of cotinine in saliva. However, larger lungs may also make some children more vulnerable to second-hand smoke than others.

Kristen Cleary, an addiction therapist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said although the number of participants is small, the study is a good starting point for further research on whether second-hand smoke is a risk factor for triggering smoking.

Cleary stated: "If we start to see how exposure to second-hand smoke as a child affects future smoking behaviour, maybe policy makers and governments would look at this a little more seriously and potentially look at things like schools, smoking bans on school (property), smoking in the home, doing more prevention."

While the study hints at the possibility that smoking may turn out to be indirectly passed on from generation to generation; on the bright side, was the study’s finding that decreases in the number of adult smokers corresponded to the decrease in the number of teenagers who were smoking cigarettes.

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