Smoke-free air laws effective at protecting children from secondhand smoke

Jun 07, 2010

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that children and adolescents living in non-smoking homes in counties with laws promoting smoke-free public places have significantly lower levels of a common biomarker of secondhand smoke exposure than those living in counties with no smoke-free laws.

The living in non-smoking homes in U.S. counties with smoke-free laws had 39% lower prevalence of cotinine in their blood, an indicator of , compared to those living in counties with no smoke-free laws. Children living in homes with exhibited little or no benefit from the smoke-free laws.

The study appears in the June 7, 2010 advance online edition of the journal Pediatrics.

"The findings suggest that smoke-free laws are an effective strategy to protect both children and adults from exposure to . In addition, interventions designed to reduce or prevent adults from smoking around children are needed," said Melanie Dove, who received her doctorate in environmental health at HSPH in 2010 and led the study.

The HSPH researchers examined data from the 1999-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a cross-sectional survey designed to monitor the health and nutritional status of the U.S. population. They analyzed the cotinine levels in 11,486 nonsmoking youngsters, aged 3-19 years, from 117 counties, both with and without exposure to secondhand smoke in the home.

In addition to a 39% lower prevalence of detectable cotinine, the researchers also found that children in non-smoking homes had 43% lower mean cotinine levels.

Over the past decade the number of state and local smoke-free laws in the nation has grown significantly. For example, the number of smoke-free laws in workplaces, restaurants and bars in the U.S. has increased from 0 in 1988 to 175 in 2006.

"These laws have been shown to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke among adults. Our results show a similar association in children and not living with a smoker in the home," said Gregory Connolly, senior author of the paper and director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH. Douglas Dockery, professor of environmental epidemiology and chair of the Department of Environmental Health, also was a study author.

According to the 2006 Surgeon General's Report, there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic compounds in secondhand smoke because they have higher breathing rates and their lungs are still developing, the authors write. Exposure to secondhand smoke in children can irritate the lungs, resulting in coughing or wheezing, and can trigger an asthma attack in children with asthma. Secondhand smoke also has been associated with sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory illnesses and middle ear disease.

For children, the home is the primary source of and most of the smoking is done by the parents. Potential exposure sources for children outside the home include cars, private child care centers, restaurants, shopping malls and parks.

Approximately 20 percent of the youth in the HSPH study lived with a smoker in the home. These children had the highest cotinine levels and could benefit the most from an intervention to reduce exposure, regardless of smoke-free laws that might be in place, say the researchers.

"One way to reduce or prevent adults from smoking around children is for physicians to counsel parents to stop smoking," said Connolly.

Explore further: Can YouTube save your life?

More information: "Smoke-free Air Laws and Secondhand Smoke Exposure Among Nonsmoking Youth, NHANES 1999-2006," Melanie S. Dove, Douglas W. Dockery, and Gregory N. Connolly. Pediatrics, Vol. 126, No. 1, July 2010, online June 7, 2010.

Related Stories

Children unaffected by smoking ban consequences

Nov 24, 2009

The smoking ban in Wales has not displaced secondhand smoke from public places into the home. A study of 3500 children from 75 primary schools in Wales, published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, found that t ...

Secondhand smoke a risk for children worldwide

Mar 05, 2008

Parents worldwide are doing little to protect their children from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Exposure to secondhand smoke has ...

Recommended for you

Can YouTube save your life?

Aug 29, 2014

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

Aug 29, 2014

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

Aug 29, 2014

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

User comments : 0