Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco tested 496 blood samples, from November 2009 and March 2010, from children that were left over between the ages of one to four to determine how many of them were exposed to secondhand smoke. Over half of those children tested positive for secondhand smoke exposure, while only a few of their parents admitted to smoking around them.
The blood test could help identify then reduce the smoke exposure to children. Jonathan Winickoff, an associate professor of pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston said, “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.”
Second hand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke or ETS and exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Secondhand smoke exposure to children causes sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma. The EPA estimates that between 150,000 and 300,000 respiratory problems annually are in infants and young children up to 18 months of age are caused by exposure to ETS. Of these, between 7,500 and 15,000 will be hospitalized.
The researchers tested the children’s blood for cotinine, which is a chemical that is produced by the body after it is exposed to nicotine. On average, 55 percent of the blood samples had a good amount of cotinine, which means those children had been exposed to smoke within the last three to four days. Only 13 percent of the parents admitted their child was exposed to secondhand smoke.
Dr. Neal Benowitz, one of the study’s co-authors from UCSF said, “I think parents do not understand the various sources of potential exposure.”
Parents believe that the child needs to be in the same room as someone smoking to be exposed to secondhand smoke, but that’s not the case. A child could be exposed to second hand smoke simply by living in an apartment building where smoking is allowed.
Dr. Harold J. Farber, who studies smoking exposure and asthma at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, said parents should keep their child away from places where people are smoking and places that allow smoking to help reduce the exposure.
Testing for cotinine is not available to the general public, as of yet. Study co-author, Dr. Neal Benowitz also said it’s expensive at about $90 to $100 per test, but he price might go down as it becomes more used.