December 1, 2009

Smoker at Home Risky for Kids

Laws protect people from cigarette smoke in the workplace and public areas. But what about the home? Secondhand smoke affects small children far more than adults.

It has long been know that breathing second−hand cigarette smoke poses a significant health risk to non−smokers, especially children. Children and adults exposed to secondhand smoke have an increase in diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract, ear infections, and asthma. For this reason, smoking has been banned in most public places including restaurants, theaters, sports arenas, airplanes, etc. This has dramatically decreased the exposure to second−hand smoke of adult non−smokers.

But children, who live in homes with adult smokers, are still at high risk of toxic exposure. A recent study published in the November issue of Pediatrics, investigated the second−hand smoke exposure of children in US homes.

Although progress has been made in many areas, one of the most vulnerable groups, children, are still being exposed to dangerous levels of second hand smoke right at home.

The researchers evaluated 5518 non−smoking children and adolescents, ages 3−19. The used a blood test, serum cotinine, which accurately reflects second hand smoke exposure in the 2−3 days preceding the test, and they obtained a smoking history from the adult members of the households. They found that almost 20 percent of children and adolescents were exposed to second hand smoke in their homes.

Among the children who lived with smokers, the serum cotinine was twenty times higher than those in non−smoking environments. Exposure was significantly lower in homes where the adults had higher incomes and more education. They found that the older the child living in a home with adult smokers, the lower their serum cotinine, although the level still reflected an unhealthful amount of smoke exposure. This suggested to the investigators that younger children were in their homes and around smoking adults more than the adolescents who spent longer hours at school and after−school activities. The researchers determined that although the numbers of children who are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home has declined since the 1990s, the children who are exposed are still inhaling as much smoke as in the past. Thus although progress has been made in many areas, one of the most vulnerable groups, children, are still being exposed to dangerous levels of second hand smoke right at home.

Parents should pay attention to the environments in which their children spend time. They should be aware of the at−home smoking habits of friends, family members and childcare providers and take measures to decrease their children's exposure to second−hand smoke in these environments. If children have frequent upper respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma flare−ups, parents should consider whether second−hand smoke exposure is contributing. Although smoking cessation is challenging, often parents can rise to the challenge for the sake of their children. The following websites may provide helpful information:

Parent can also contact their physicians for advice about local programs as well as information about medications and products to help them quit.

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