Smoking Bans Protect Children From Secondhand Smoke
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research suggests that smoking bans at home, at school and in public places minimize children's exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and may also reduce the likelihood that teens will start smoking themselves.
``Smoke-free environments may lead to smoke-free kids,'' Dr. Melanie A. Wakefield, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Reuters Health. Wakefield is the lead author of one of three studies on secondhand smoke and children published in the August 5th issue of the British Medical Journal.
In a survey of more than 17,000 US high school students, Wakefield and her colleagues found that restricting smoking at home, at school and in public places appears to reduce teen smoking.
The link between smoking restrictions and reduced teen smoking was strongest for smoking bans set by families in their homes, according to the report.
``Communities that pass strong laws to restrict smoking in public places will not only be protecting their residents from the effects of environmental tobacco smoke, but can protect their children from becoming smokers,'' Wakefield told Reuters Health. ``It's another good reason to ban smoking in all public places.''
The researchers report that smoking bans at home were most effective at putting a damper on teen smoking. ``If you are a parent, banning smoking inside your home can decrease the chances of your child taking up smoking,'' Wakefield said. ''This applies even if you are a parent who smokes.''
Another team of researchers in the United States reports that a counseling program aimed at female smokers effectively reduced their children's exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
The study included 108 mothers who smoked. The women were randomly assigned to receive counseling on how to reduce their children's exposure to secondhand smoke or to receive no counseling. The counseling was not intended to help the women stop smoking.
The researchers tested children's exposure to secondhand smoke by measuring levels of cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine, in their urine.
While cotinine levels of children whose mothers were in the counseling group dropped by 4% in 12 months, they increased by 85% in children whose mothers were not counseled.
Mothers' reports of their children's exposure to secondhand smoke also confirmed the benefits of counseling. In both groups, exposure to smoke declined sharply during the first 3 months, but the difference was significantly greater in the counseling group and was maintained throughout the study.
``We can be very confident that counseling can help parents reduce their child's exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in the home,'' the study's lead author, Dr. Melbourne F. Hovell, of San Diego State University in California, said in comments to Reuters Health. ``This should protect children from the likely ill effects possible from environmental tobacco smoke exposure.''
The third study in the journal indicates that children in England are exposed to much less secondhand smoke than they were a decade ago, primarily because fewer parents smoke and smoking has been restricted in public places. Dr. Martin J. Jarvis, of University College London, and colleagues based the findings on a national survey of children aged 11 to 15. All of the children in the study were nonsmokers.
From 1988 to 1998, cotinine concentrations in nonsmoking children declined by almost one half, the authors report.
``We found that children from nonsmoking homes, whose exposure presumably occurs mainly in public places, had a considerable reduction in exposure over the 10 years from 1988,'' Jarvis told Reuters Health. ``That suggests that restrictions of smoking in public places do have a real impact.'' He also noted that fewer parents were smoking in 1998 than in 1988.
But in contrast to one of the other studies, which found that parents who smoke can reduce teen smoking by not lighting up at home, the decline in secondhand smoke was much smaller in children whose parents smoked, according to Jarvis.
``If parents want to protect their children effectively from tobacco smoke, then they will have to give up completely,'' he said.
``As more is learnt about strategies to control tobacco and how they interact, it is clear that no one strategy will work alone,'' Drs. Roberta Ferrence, of the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit in Toronto, Canada, and Dr. Mary Jane Ashley, of the University of Toronto, write in an accompanying editorial.
``The addition of these new studies strengthens the rationale for a comprehensive framework to protect children's health and prevent their recruitment to smoking in adolescence,'' the editorialists state.