Secondhand Smoke Exposure Increases Risk of ADHD in Kids

Secondhand Smoke Causes Many Health Problems in Adults and Children

Secondhand smoke exposure among adults has decreased over the past decade, primarily due to indoor smoking bans in restaurants and other public places. However, children are still exposed in homes where parents freely smoke. A new study, published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics, finds that secondhand smoke not only affects children’s respiratory health, but it can also lead to neurobehavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Over 274,000 Cases of Neurodevelopment Disorders Could Be Prevented with Smoking Bans

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics conducted a nationwide telephone survey between April 2007 and July 2008. The total sample size was 91,642 children from birth through age 17 years. Just over 55,000 of the children were younger than 12 years.

Read: Secondhand Smoke Causes Both Immediate and Long-Term Health Effects

The team, led by Hillel R. Alpert ScM of the Harvard School of Public Health, estimates that over 5 million children younger than age 12 are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. These children have a 50% increased risk of developing neurobehavioral disorders compared with children who are not exposed. They also had a 50% increased risk of having two or more of the disorders and to have needed treatment or counseling. Children exposed to smoke in the home were also at a 22% higher risk for having learning disabilities.


The risk was highest among boys, children between the ages of 9 to 11 years, and those living at the highest poverty levels. Factors that lower the likelihood of these disorders included living with two biological parents and the mother having more education.

Read: Babies of Non-Smoking Pregnant Women Risk Secondhand Smoke Exposure

The latest statistics from the CDC find that 4.5 million children ages 5 to 17 have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, that it affects 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children. Alpert estimates that 274,100 excess cases of these disorders could have been prevented if the children were not exposed to secondhand smoke. The annual medical cost associated with treating a child with a neurobehavioral disorder is about $14,576 per individual or a national total of about $9.2 billion each year.

"This is particularly significant with regard to the potential burden of pediatric mental health care on an overextended healthcare system, a problem that could be dramatically reduced if voluntary smoke-free home policies were widely adopted," concluded Alpert.

Journal reference:
Kabir Z, et al "Secondhand smoke exposure and neurobehavioral disorders among children in the United States" Pediatrics 2011;doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0023.

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