Passive Smoking could Pose a Greater Threat to Children than Previously Thought

Passive smoking has always been a huge risk to the non-smokers. Smokers have a safety filter which blocks out some of the toxic chemicals. The people in their vicinity are not so lucky. Exposed to the untreated smoke, people can be at serious health risks.

A recent study has suggested that toddlers and infants, particularly from low-income households may be more susceptible to developing health concerns.

A research conducted by Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program selected rural communities from the states of North Carolina and Central Pennsylvania. The study reported some rather interesting, yet alarming, findings. Of the 1200 children selected for the research, a whopping 180 of them had high levels of cotinine in their saliva.

Cotinine is a nicotine metabolite. It is considered to be the biomarker to detect exposure to tobacco smoke. Its main usage is in assessing if someone has been exposed to second/third-hand smoking. The children had unusually high levels of cotinine even when compared with regular adult smokers.

The study was published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research Journal. This is the first study on children that has documented the levels of Cotinine. As many as 63% of the babies and young children aged between 6 months and 4 years had a discernible presence of the chemical in their bodies. This suggested that they have been exposed to second and third-hand smoke.

A professor from the New York University, Clancy Blair, said, “We’re finding (as much as) 15 percent of the babies have levels as if they were smokers themselves.” Blair teaches cognitive Psychology and was one of the senior authors on the study.

The lead author of the study Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp was alarmed at the levels of Cotinine in the children. She said, “It was definitely more than we expected, and it’s scary. Smoke continues on in the environment even after the cigarette is out.” Gatzke-Kopp’s preferred area of study is human development and family studies and is a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and was aimed at finding the impact that environmental factors have on the health of children and their development.

Gatzke-Kopp added, “I think some parents are trying to reduce their children’s exposure. They’re making a good effort. They go outside, or they don’t smoke around their child, but they may not know it’s all over them, and when they pick the baby up and cuddle the baby, the baby’s getting it through their clothes, their hair.”

Perhaps the most interesting finding of the research was that the characteristics associated with poverty were found to coincide with the high levels of the nicotine metabolite.

The researches attached the high levels of Cotinine with the higher breathing and respiration rates in children. The second and the third-hand smoke was associated with being in the vicinity of a smoker and from contact with surface residue.

As the rural areas have exhibited such high levels, researchers are of the view that the urban statistics might even be higher.

“It might be even more worrisome, in that kids in urban environments are operating in more of a toxic chemical soup than kids in a more rural environment,” Blair said.

The research team is now working on identifying whether the second and third-hand smoke is linked to health-related problems in children.

Gatzke-Kopp said, “It’s definitely true that nicotine binds in the brain in special receptors that affect things like cognition and attention, and there’s every reason to believe all brains are equally vulnerable.”

The findings will help in identifying and controlling the side effects of smoking. Awareness can be pivotal in persuading the smokers to cut down smoking and move towards a society that is not plagued with it.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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