Parents in a fog over kids’ secondhand smoke exposure, TAU research finds

Smoking cigarette 370 (photo credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)
Smoking cigarette 370
(photo credit: Daniel Munoz/Reuters)
Israeli parents who smoke fail to estimate how much and even where their children are exposed to secondhand smoke from tobacco, according to a recently published study by Tel Aviv University researchers in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, according to the American Heart Association. The new TAU study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses to gauge the presence of such smoke in the air. “This reliance leads to misconceptions of when and where children are exposed to tobacco smoke,” wrote Dr.
Leah Rosen of TAU’s School of Public Health and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, who led the research.
“No one has previously put their finger on this exposure-perception problem.
This is important for the ongoing debate about restrictions on smoking in public places, since people may be exposed without being aware of it,” she said.
“Many parents believe they are taking adequate measures to protect their children from the damage of cigarette smoke. But we found that they are not even aware of some of the exposure, and therefore do not take sufficient measures to protect their children.”
The research team conducted in-depth interviews with 65 parents of young children from smoking households across Israel. They found many false assumptions and a lack of awareness of where and when the children were exposed to cigarette smoke.
The researchers then compared the parents’ misconceptions of secondhand smoke exposure with recent scientific findings.
They found that if parents believed they did not see or smell the smoke, their children were not exposed.
“But previous studies have shown that 85% of smoke is invisible, and many components of cigarette smoke are odorless,” explained Rosen.
“What’s more, you can’t rely on a smoker’s sense of smell, which may have been damaged by smoking.”
Some parents said they believed that if they smoked beside an open window, on the balcony or in a designated area – or if they ventilated the room after smoking – their children would not be exposed to the toxic fumes.
“But urine tests of children whose parents smoke near open windows indicate double the normal level of cotinine, a product of nicotine,” Rosen said.
Other parents thought that smoking in the car with the windows open would not harm their children.
“The fact is that the level of harmful particles inside a smoker’s car may be even higher than in bars where customers smoke freely,” she noted. “Research has shown that children exposed to a single cigarette smoked in a car have increased biomarkers 24 hours following the exposure. Also, prolonged exposure at low levels may accumulate over time and cause permanent damage to children’s developing lungs and cardiovascular systems.
“To protect children from secondhand smoke, parents must be persuaded that exposure occurs even when they themselves do not see or smell the smoke. Parents’ awareness of smoke exposure is essential to protecting children from secondhand smoke,” Rosen concluded.