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Passive smoking causes irreversible damage to arteries of kids

Harold Mandel's picture
Passive smoking

Smoking is beyond a doubt a deadly practice. The association between smoking and lung cancer, other serious pulmonary problems and heart disease is conclusive. New research has shown that passive smoking is also dangerous. This raises deep concerns about the exposure of young children to cigarette smoke from their parents and others.

Exposure to parental smoking in childhood or adolescence has been found to be associated with increased carotid intima-media thickness in young adults, reported the European Heart Journal. It has been suggested by recent evidence that exposure of children to their parents' smoking adversely effects endothelial function in adulthood. Researchers investigated whether this association was also present with carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) as long as 25 years later.

It was observed that having both parents smoke was associated with vascular age which was 3.3 years greater at follow-up than having neither of the parents smoke. It was concluded that these results demonstrated the pervasive effect of exposure to parental smoking on the vascular health of children up to 25 years later. The researchers took the position that continued efforts to reduce smoking among adults are necessary in order to protect young people and to lower the burden of cardiovascular disease across the entire population.

The US Surgeon General's first report on Smoking and Health was landmark report in 1964 which concluded that cigarette smoking is harmful and causes lung and laryngeal cancer, reported the European Heart Journal in a discussion of the challenge of protecting our children from environmental tobacco smoke. The Surgeon General released a further report on the Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking in 1986. This report provided conclusive evidence that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, or passive smoking, causes lung cancer.

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Nevertheless, tobacco use continues to be a leading cause of preventable death worldwide. It has been estimated that about one-third of adults are exposed to ETS globally on a regular basis. Shockingly, as many as 700 million children worldwide are also exposed to ETS, primarily at home. Also, those who are the most likely to smoke are between the ages of 20 and 45, which is a period that coincides with parenthood. Therefore, ETS may represent perhaps "the most ubiquitous, hazardous, and potentially preventable adverse environmental exposure for children."

The evidence supports the concern that passive smoking causes irreversible damage to children’s arteries, reports the European Society of Cardiology in a discussion of this research. This presents a serious health concern for kids. The thickening of the arteries’ walls, which is associated with being exposed to parents’ smoke, is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life for these children.

Dr Seana Gall, a research fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the University of Tasmania, has said, “Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries. Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking." In this manner parents can restore their own health while also protecting their kids into the future. Clearly, this study adds further strength to the arguments for banning smoking in areas where kids may be present, such as cars.

It was of interest that this study did not show an effect if only one of the parents smoked. Dr Gall has said, “We think that the effect was only apparent with both parents smoking because of the greater overall dose of smoke these children were exposed to.” Nevertheless, the researchers have said their studies suggest a direct and pervasive effect of exposure to environmental cigarette smoke during childhood on both the vascular structure and function in adulthood. They have taken the position that reducing young people’s exposure to tobacco smoke is a public health priority.

The finding that passive smoking can be so terribly dangerous for children raises significant public health concerns. It appears that smoking around kids should be considered a form of child abuse. And yet I see this happening often. Children are helpless to understand the negative health consequences of passive smoking. And as kids become more aware of these consequences as they age and are educated about this problem, they are nevertheless powerless from a legal perspective to do anything about this while they are still minors. This presents us with a scenario of so called caring and responsible parents and other adults actually stealing the health of children by smoking around them and demands consideration of new laws to deal with this serious matter.