Study: Smoking sins of parents visited on children

US scientists detect carcinogenic chemicals from tobacco smoke in the urine of infants whose parents smoke in their vicinity.

smoking baby 88 (photo credit: )
smoking baby 88
(photo credit: )
US scientists have the first time detected cancer-causing chemicals from tobacco smoke in the urine of infants whose parents smoke in their vicinity, according to an article in the just-released May issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. "The take-home message is, 'Don't smoke around your kids,'" said Prof. Stephen Hecht, an expert in cancer prevention at the Cancer Center of the University of Minnesota. Rambam Medical Center oncology expert Prof. Eliezer Robinson, who is chairman of the Israel Cancer Association, commented to The Jerusalem Post that the University of Minnesota study "provides strong backing for what we have been saying for a long time - that passive smoking is extremely dangerous for everyone exposed to others' smoke, especially babies and children. We urge parents not to smoke, and if they do, not around children or in their environments. Carcinogenic chemicals stick even to furniture and textiles." Robinson added that smoking is officially barred in all workplaces, but he didn't know whether the law is universally observed in kindergartens and day care centers. "This should be investigated," he said. According to a study of 144 infants, Hecht and his colleagues found detectable levels of 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL) in urine samples taken from 47 percent of babies exposed to environmental tobacco carcinogens by cigarette-smoking family members. NNAL is a cancer-causing chemical produced in the human body, as it processes 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), a carcinogenic chemical specific to tobacco. "The level of NNAL detected in the urine of these infants was higher than in most other field studies of environmental tobacco smoke in children and adults," Hecht said. "NNAL is an accepted biomarker for uptake of the tobacco-specific carcinogen NNK. You don't find NNAL in urine except in people who are exposed to tobacco smoke, whether they are adults, children or infants." A previous study by Hecht and his colleagues indicated that the first urine from newborns whose mothers smoked during pregnancy contained as much as one-third more NNAL compared to the babies in the current study. The newborn infants, however, took in the carcinogen directly from their mothers through their placentas rather than by breathing second-hand smoke in the air in their family homes and cars. In the current study, when babies had detectable levels of NNAL, Hecht said that family members smoked an average of 76 cigarettes per week, in their home or car, while the babies were present. In children of smokers whose babies had undetectable levels of NNAL in their urine, the average number of cigarettes smoked by family members was reported at 27 per week. "With more sensitive analytical equipment, the NNAL from urine of babies in lower-frequency cigarette-smoking households would most likely be detectable," Hecht said. While studies have not determined how the long-term risk of exposure to cancer-causing tobacco smoke affects the genetics of babies during their early years when they are growing rapidly, Hecht said that this study demonstrated substantial uptake of NNK and its metabolite NNAL in infants exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. "These findings support the concept that persistent exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in childhood could be related to cancer later in life," he said.