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Absence From School Higher When Kids Live with Smokers


When there are smokers in the home, there’s more absenteeism from school among the kids, according to a new study published in Pediatrics. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers report that kids who live with smokers miss more days of school than do kids living in smoke-free households.

Smoking at home also leads to lost wages

Previous studies have looked at the impact on children when they live with smokers. A recent study from Texas Tech University Health Science Center, for example, noted that children with asthma who are exposed to household smokers have an increased risk for respiratory illness-related absences from school that lasts throughout adolescence. Ear infections, chest colds, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory conditions have also been associated with exposure to secondhand smoke in the home.

This new nationwide study evaluated information gathered from parents/caregivers of 3,087 children ages 6 to 11. More than 14 percent of the kids (2.6 million children) had at least one smoker in their homes. Kids who lived with one smoker averaged 1.06 more days absent from school and those with two or more smokers had 1.54 more days absent than did kids who lived in smoke-free homes.

Chest colds and ear infections were among the types of illnesses associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. These accounted for 24 percent of school absences among kids who lived in homes where one person smoked indoors and 34 percent of missed school for kids living in homes where two or more people smoked indoors.

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Unlike studies that have linked kids’ asthma with exposure to secondhand smoke in the home, this study did not demonstrate that association, although the authors noted the study population may not have had enough children with asthma to make this trigger meaningful. Smoking in the home did not increase gastrointestinal ailments.

In addition to the health hazards kids face when living among smokers, the study’s lead author, Douglas Levy, PhD, of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at MGH, noted that “on a national basis these absences result in $227 million in lost wages and time for caregivers or their employers.” This is a significant loss, especially, as Levy noted, “almost half of the smoking households in our study had low incomes,” which means those least able to afford the additional costs are affected by them.

When kids are absent from school, they also risk falling behind academically. Therefore, kids who live in homes with smokers face both health and academic challenges, while their parents and caregivers face economic consequences. Overall, when kids live with smokers, the negative impact can be significant.

Levy DE et al. School absenteeism among children living with smokers. Pediatrics 2011; doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1067
Stapleton M et al. Smoking and asthma. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2011 May-Jun; 24(3): 313-22

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons