Many Kids Exposed To Secondhand Smoke Despite Parents' Claims

By Amir Khan on May 11, 2012 7:25 PM EDT

Smoking
A woman was shot over a cigarette, police say (Photo: Reuters)

Children are exposed to more secondhand smoke than parents think, according to a new study. Researchers tested almost 500 kids for smoke exposure and found more than one-half of them tested positive, despite the fact only 13 percent of parents admitted to smoking.

Researchers tested the blood for cotinine, a chemical the body produces after nicotine exposure. About 55 percent of the children tested had measurable levels of cotinine, meaning they were exposed to smoke within the three or four days before the test. Only 13 percent of parents said their children had been exposed to secondhand smoke.

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"I think parents do not understand the various sources of potential exposure," said Neal Benowitz, study co-author and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, told Fox News.

Many parents feel that if they don't smoke, their children are not exposed to secondhand smoke, researchers said. However, that's untrue -- in apartment buildings, for example, smoke can seep under doors and through vents, according to the study.

"What the test does is allow the doctor -- in consultation with the parent -- to figure out the source of exposure and then to eliminate it," Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, an associate professor of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, said in an editorial accompanying the study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine on Monday.

Secondhand smoke can cause development problems, respiratory issues, sudden infant death syndrome, and chronic health infections, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults, and have little control over their indoor environments," the EPA said on its website. "Children exposed to high doses of secondhand smoke, such as those whose mothers smoke, run the greatest relative risk of experiencing damaging health effects."

The blood test for cotinine is not yet widely available, and it is comparatively expensive, about $100 per test. However, the researchers said the price should come down if such testing is widely implemented -- as it should be, because it is a very useful diagnostic tool, according to the study.

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