New research laboratory examines secondhand smoke exposure

3 out of 5 Israeli children found to have toxic tobacco-byproduct chemical in urine.

Smoking (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
A new laboratory for biological monitoring of environmental tobacco smoke and other toxic chemicals has been opened at the Health Ministry, which has been severely criticized by the state comptroller and public health experts for the rising smoking rate and leniency toward tobacco companies.
The equipment will focus on exposure to secondhand smoke in the environment, as well as pesticides, heavy metals and more. Biological monitoring makes it possible to see changes in the exposure of the population to environmental pollutants, as well as promote health and environmental policies based on this information.
The ministry integrated the unit into the National Public Health Lab with support from the Health and Environment Fund. The new facility has already demonstrated its ability to measure nicotine in urine, which is a reliable measure of exposure to non-smokers from secondhand tobacco smoke.
In 2016, the ministry conducted a survey to assess the exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in children. A total of 103 urine samples were sent abroad for laboratory analysis for the measurement of cotinine (a nicotine decomposition product) in urine. The data were compared with data from other countries, and a comparison was made for different populations in Israel.
Cotinine was detected in the urine of 59% of the children. The average cotinine concentration in children in Israel is higher than found in children in Canada, Germany and England but lower than in Poland, the ministry said. The level was higher among children with low socioeconomic status. More surveys are planned for the future.