Secondhand Smoke Bad for Kids’ Hearts

Exposure Affects Flow of Blood on Arteries, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 04, 2007

June 4, 2008 - Even small amounts of exposure to secondhand smoke can negatively impact the cardiovascular health of children, new research confirms.

Kids exposed to tobacco smoke showed evidence of blood flow restriction in the study, with those exposed to the most smoke experiencing the greatest effect.

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.”

Cardiovascular Impact

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 exposure.

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.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Kallio, K. Circulation, June 26, 2007; online edition. Katariina Kallio, MD, research fellow, Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland. Martha Daviglus, MD, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago; spokeswoman, American Heart Association. Thomas J. Glynn, PhD, director of cancer science and trends, American Cancer Society. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General 2006. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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