May 13, 2002 BALTIMORE, MAY 7, 2002 -- In a recent study on the effects of second-hand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure among children ages two weeks to four years, researchers at Columbus Children's Hospital confirmed that even a child whose parents smoke outside the home in places like the garage is exposed to higher levels of ETS, as measured by the child's hair cotinine (HC) level. Most importantly, researchers found that children whose parents believed smoking was harmful were likely to have lower HC values than other children. Researcher Judith Groner, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics, presented the findings Tuesday, May 7 at the 2002 Pediatric Academic Societies' (PAS) annual meeting in Baltimore.
"We wondered if parents who said they were not smoking in the home or near their child had an impact on the child's ETS exposure," Dr. Groner said. "Our study verified that exposure still occurs. As healthcare professionals, we still have very serious concerns over the fact that these children are being exposed to ETS. The youngest children are the most vulnerable. We found allowing visitors to smoke in the house also increases the risk."
Cotinine, a nicotine metabolite, is deposited in hair and has been used in past studies to quantify ETS exposure. In addition to analyzing the HC levels of both mothers and children, researchers asked mothers of the study participants to complete a questionnaire regarding their child's exposure to ETS, location where smoking occurs and knowledge and beliefs about smoking and pediatric health.
"We analyzed hair HC levels because they reveal exposure to ETS over time (months) versus saliva or urine, which shows exposure in the past few days," Dr. Groner said.
The HC levels of more than 290 mother/child pairs were analyzed. Among the children in the study, nearly 40 percent of their primary caregivers were self-reported smokers. Only 20 percent of smokers never smoked in the home. Children exposed to ETS in the home had higher HC levels as compared to children whose parents smoked outside of the home. Unexposed children had the lowest HC levels. Additionally, children's HC levels were lower when parents believed that their smoking could harm their children.
"We found that parents who know smoking is bad for their children choose not to smoke around them," Dr. Groner said. "This attitude correlates to the child's HC levels being lower. Many parents may know of diseases associated with smoking, but knowledge is not enough; attitudes are more important. Believing that exposing their children to ETS is unhealthy directly influences their behavior. Intervention to change attitudes among parents is key to reducing children's ETS exposure."
Columbus Children's Hospital ranks among the top 10 in National Institutes of Health research awards and grants to freestanding children's hospitals in the country. With nearly 500,000 patient visits each year, Children's Hospital is a 110-year-old pediatric healthcare network treating newborns through age 21. In 2001, the Children's Research Institute conducted more than 105 research projects. Pediatric Clinical Trials International (PCTI), a site management organization affiliated with the hospital, also coordinated more than 50 clinical trials. In addition to having one of the largest ambulatory programs in the country, Children's offers specialty programs and services. Each year, more than 75,000 consumers receive health and wellness education and 2,000 students from 100 institutions and 500 residents receive training at Children's. More information on Children's Hospital of Columbus is available by calling (614) 722-KIDS (5437) or through the hospital's Web site at http://www.columbuschildrens.com.
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