Secondhand Smoke Bad for Kids’ Hearts
Exposure Affects Flow of Blood on Arteries, Study Shows
WebMD News Archive
June 4, 2008 - Even small amounts of exposure to secondhand smoke can
negatively impact the cardiovascular health of children, new research
Kids exposed to tobacco smoke showed evidence of blood flow restriction in
the study, with those exposed to the most smoke experiencing the greatest
Researcher Katariina Kallio, MD, says it is increasingly evident that
secondhand smoke exposure poses a significant health risk to children.
“This certainly suggests that there is no safe level of exposure,” she tells
WebMD. “We don’t know what this means for their future, but studies in adults
suggest these changes may not be totally reversible.”
Kallio and colleagues from Finland’s University of Turku measured levels of
the nicotine marker cotinine in the blood of children between the ages of 8 and
11 to determine their exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
They assessed blood vessel health using an ultrasound testing method
previously used to measure artery function in adults.
Of the 402 children enrolled in the study, 229 showed no evidence of
exposure to secondhand smoke, while 134 showed evidence of low exposure and 39
showed evidence of high exposure.
Ultrasound testing revealed that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke
negatively affected artery function and that the effect grew with increased
The study is published in the latest issue of the American Heart Association
(AHA) publication Circulation.
“There is already a lot of evidence that secondhand smoke is harmful to
children,” Kallio says. “Hopefully, parents who are still smoking around their
children will stop.”
22 Million Kids Exposed
Almost 60% of children in the United States between the ages of 3 and 11 --
roughly 22 million kids -- are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to a 2006
report from the U.S. Surgeon General.
Infants exposed to environmental tobacco smoke are at increased risk for
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and children have an increased risk for
respiratory infections and ear problems. Asthma symptoms in children can also
be triggered by exposure to cigarette smoke.
While the long-term health consequences of tobacco smoke exposure early in
life are not well understood, it is clear that continued exposure poses
significant risks. And children whose parents smoke are more likely to become
smokers themselves, AHA spokeswoman Martha Daviglus, MD, PhD, points out.
“Duration of exposure is important,” she tells WebMD. “Just as obesity in
children increases their risk for high blood pressure and diabetes earlier in
life, early and prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke may lead to earlier heart
disease or other health problems.”
Thomas Glynn, PhD, of the American Cancer Society says the study findings
provide “one more piece of the puzzle” for understanding the health impact of
passive smoke exposure.
“We have known that secondhand smoke increases ear infections and the
incidence of asthma attacks in children,” he tells WebMD. “Now we know that it
affects the cardiovascular system.”
- How do you protect
your kids from secondhand smoke? Tell us on WebMD's Parenting: Preschoolers
and Gradeschoolers message board.