Apartment living exposes kids to more second-hand smoke

A new study finds that kids who live in apartments have more tobacco contaminants in their blood than those who live in houses, even if smokers in the household refrain from smoking at home.

Earlier studies have shown that there are a host of health conditions in kids that arise from exposure to second hand smoke. This includes asthma and respiratory infections, ear infections, low test scores and sudden infant death syndrome.

This new study surveyed nearly 5,000 parents and children ages 6 through 18 from 2001 to 2006. In addition to reviewing responses to survey questions about smoking in the home, they also performed tests to check the levels of a contaminant called cotinine, a chemical which is present in the blood of children who have been exposed to the nicotine in tobacco smoke. Only children who lived in homes in which no one smoked indoors were included in the analysis. They found that children who lived in apartments generally had higher levels of tobacco smoke contaminants in their blood than to children who lived in houses. They also found that tobacco contaminant levels were highest in children under 12, those who were black, and those living below the federal poverty level. Overall, more than 84 percent of children in apartment housing had been exposed to tobacco smoke, compared to nearly 80 percent of children in attached houses and 70 percent in stand-alone houses.

According to a study author, Dr. Jonathon Winickoff at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, these findings will help create the social and political will to push people toward establishing smoke-free housing policies. He said, “This [study] is the last link in the chain demonstrating the need for smoke-free buildings… People will shake their heads in disbelief that we ever allowed smoking in buildings where children live.”

They speculate that apartment dwelling kids are more at risk because of shared walls, ventilation systems and ductwork from which second hand smoke can creep in. The invisible smoke is absorbed by furniture, carpets, curtains, clothing, toys, and other items that children come into contact with and even put in their mouths.

Dr. Nanci Yuan, associate clinical professor at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in California said the concerns are not for the smoker alone but also for other people surrounding them like children and pregnant women. “This article highlights the far reaching negative impact of smoking not only on the smoker themselves and their close contacts, but also impacts and burdens the health of their neighbours and the community as a whole,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Cook, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Centre's Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. added, “There have been some very significant house standards changed based on lead paint in old homes and apartments.” It is time that regulations that would limit ‘second-hand’ smoke exposure in homes are in place.

Dr. Wesley Burks, professor and chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. also said, “I would hope it would have significant long-term impact on making changes to protect children.”

Ron Borland of the VicHealth Center for Tobacco Control in Australia however said he worries that some low-income tenants may face eviction if smoking bans are instituted. He said, “Arguments about expelling smoking tenants and even making it a child abuse offense have the potential to do much more harm and should not be part of the discourse… Disadvantaged people need help, not being put down by ill-meaning but naive good-doers.”

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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