According to the American Heart Association, children face dangerous health consequences if they live with those who smoke. Breathing in secondhand smoke during childhood can lead to long-term health problems, including breathing issues and a shorter life expectancy.
In the U.S., there are about 45 million adults who smoke, a full 18% of the American population. Researchers are especially concerned about these smoker’s families, as they continue to smoke around their children even though the risks are widely known.
Unfortunately, the AHA estimates 24 million children and adolescents are being subjected to secondhand smoke on a daily basis. About 40% of school aged children are affected, and minority children have the highest rate of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
This statistic represents 68% of all minority children nationwide.
Children living in low socioeconomic households are also at risk, along with those between the ages of three- to 11-years-old. But, AHA researchers want to note that unborn babies and infants under three are also at risk, as that period marks the fastest rate of development across the entire human life span.
Sadly, babies exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb are more likely to die of sudden death during infancy, and toddlers can suffer from restricted blood vessels in their brain.
Additionally, in 2012, researchers found a nicotine byproduct, cotinine, in blood samples from 41% of U.S. school children between ages three to 11 and 34% in youths between 12 to 19. This comes despite decreases in adult smoking rates within the past few decades.
The rates of children living with smokers has also decreased since the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III was published, which studied smokers between 1988 to 1994. The statistic continued to drop from 59% in 2000 to 34% today.
This disparity was the most pronounced in black children.
“It is a socio-economic and a health care associated disparity issue,” said Dr. Avni Joshi, a pediatrics researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who wasn’t involved in the study.
Joshi goes on to explain to the Huffington Post, “Parents do not understand or are oblivious to the gravity of second and third hand smoke exposure and possible effects. This may be related to their level of education, access to health care and role modeling in the community.”
Breathing in secondhand smoke can cause many severe cardiovascular and pulmonary health problems in children. The smoke can cause damage to the arteries, restricting blood flow, changes to blood pressure, and can both decrease and increase the heart’s rhythm. Other risk factors include difficulties breathing, obesity, asthma, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
These illnesses can also lead to other ailments in the future, as asthma patients face an almost 40% greater risk for sleep apnea than those who are asthma-free.
No matter the exposure, researchers believe secondhand smoke is extremely dangerous and long-lasting.
“Although the pulmonary consequences of [secondhand smoke] exposure are clinically apparent in childhood, the cardiovascular effects of [secondhand smoke] exposure are occult but long-lasting and substantial,” Cardiovascular Business reports from the author’s press release. “Existing evidence suggests that [secondhand smoke] exposure in children and youth is detrimental to their cardiovascular health and that consequences attributable to [secondhand smoke] exposure may persist into adult life.”
While the heath effects of smoking have been known for years, this is one of the first studies published related the risk factors directly to risk factors in children.
But why don’t parents stop smoking? Dr. Annie Lintzenich Andrews, a pediatrics researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina, believes that the effects of secondhand smoke on children are harder to see when their children are young.
Andrews writes in an email to the Huffington Post,
“Avoidance of secondhand smoke exposure might not be on the top of many parents’ list of priorities due to so many competing daily stressors like getting kids to school, paying the bills, supplying nutritious meals. Also, there are often not immediate, tangible negative consequences to secondhand smoke exposure in children making it difficult for parents to appreciate the risks it poses to their children.”
Researchers also discovered that children were more likely to become smokers if their parents smoke, which adds a whole new set of worries for the long-term health of children nationwide.