Published on Feb 27, 2011 with 0 comment
Exposure to tobacco smoke has long been known to cause illness in children. Widespread educational programs and public awareness campaigns have identified passive exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke as a major health risk. Yet, despite this, children unfortunately continue to be exposed in great numbers, and the greatest source of exposure is in the home. Alarmingly, one quarter of all children in the U.S. live in a home with at least one smoker.
Exposure levels are not theoretical, as exposure and its degree can now be objectively measured. One can detect the presence of cotinine, a nicotine metabolite, in the blood, urine, saliva, and hair of those individuals exposed to passive smoke. In a recent study of children 3-10 years of age in Rochester, N.Y., mean cotinine levels were significantly higher in children whose parents smoked (2.82 ng/ml) compared with those children who live with non-smoking parents (0.72 ng/ml). And interestingly, measured exposure to cigarette smoke was higher in children whose mother smoked, compared to other members of the family.
The medical community is very aware of the harmful effects of passive exposure to cigarette smoke. Allergists and pediatric pulmonologists can attest to the deleterious effects of exposure in young children. They clearly recognize the increased frequency and severity of respiratory illnesses. Children with asthma or reactive airways are especially susceptible. There is evidence that smoke exposure can temporarily paralyze the hair-like structures called cilia which line the respiratory tract. Well functioning cilia are a critical defense mechanism in promoting the movement of mucous and ridding the body of foreign respiratory pathogens, allergens and irritants. Dysfunctional or paralyzed cilia can lead to respiratory infections including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, and recurrent ear infections in children.
We must all do more to discourage cigarette smoking in teenagers and adults, and we must do a better job in educating the public about this preventable health crisis. Parents must stop turning a blind eye to the fact that they are poisoning their children.