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Study: Children exposed to secondhand smoke are hospitalized more often

Posted at 5:24 PM, Sep 23, 2020

It's no secret that smoking and secondhand smoke are not good for your health. But a new study shows just how detrimental secondhand smoke is for children.

"In past studies, we found up to nearly one-in-two children who come to the pediatric emergency department are exposed to tobacco smoke," said Dr. Ashley Merianos, an associate professor in the School of Human Services at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Merianos led the study, comparing 380 children living with a tobacco smoker with 1,140 children who are not. The ethnically diverse study found that the children exposed to secondhand smoke at home were more likely to be hospitalized.

"We also found that the children who had been exposed had increased respiratory-related procedures, increased diagnostic testing. So, for example, being tested for the flu and laboratory testing, as well as radiologic testing, including x-rays of the chest and lateral airways," said Dr. Merianos.

The children who were exposed to secondhand smoke were also more likely to be prescribed medications like steroids or inhalers.

"Our findings highlight the need to universally screen for tobacco smoke exposure during every pediatric healthcare visit and provide interventions to reduce and prevent exposure among patients and their families," said Dr. Merianos.

Dr. Merianos says intervention is key since hospital emergency departments mostly treat underserved patients with high tobacco use and limited access to information about quitting.

"I think right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time to quit. And the reason I say that is we know that there is emerging evidence that both smoking and vaping make it more likely that you have COVID and more severe COVID symptoms," said Dr. Susan Walley, the Chair of American Academy of Pediatric's section on Nicotine and Tobacco Prevention and Treatment.

Dr. Walley says she's not surprised by the results of the University of Cincinnati's study, adding that secondhand smoke exposure has short-and-long-term health effects on children.

"Children who have secondhand smoke exposure are more likely to have ear infections, pneumonia, asthma and if they have asthma, more likely to have more severe asthma attacks like we see in this study," said Dr. Walley.

Dr. Walley says children exposed to tobacco smoking parents or older siblings are also more likely to smoke themselves as they get older. Doctors hope the study highlights the importance of encouraging parents to quit tobacco use for good, for the sake of their own health and the children they love.