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Secondhand Smoke a Threat Even Outdoors

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May 7, 2002 -- If you're a smoker, and a parent, you probably step outside to indulge your habit, thinking this will protect your little ones from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Not true, a new study shows.

"We wondered if parents who said they were not smoking in the home or near their children had an impact on the child's environmental tobacco smoke exposure," says study leader Judith Groner, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at Ohio's Columbus Children's Hospital, in a news release.

So her team measured the amount of cotinine -- a by-product of nicotine metabolism -- in the hair of 327 children, aged 2 weeks to 3 years, and their mothers.

As expected, children whose primary caregiver smoked, and did so in the home, had the highest levels of cotinine. But kids whose parents reported smoking only outside the home also showed potentially dangerous levels of exposure, albeit much lower than the other children.

Overall, the children of parents who knew that cigarette smoke was unhealthy for their children and avoided smoking or allowing others to smoke in their presence, had the lowest cotinine levels.

"Our study verified that exposure still occurs," the researchers say. "As healthcare professionals, we still have very serious concerns over the fact that these children are being exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. The youngest children are the most vulnerable."

The researchers conclude that parents who know that cigarette smoking is bad for their kids make the greatest effort to keep exposure to a minimum. "This attitude correlates to the child's cotinine levels being lower," they say. "Intervention to change attitudes among parents is key to reducing children's environmental tobacco smoke exposure."

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