Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries, according to researchers. A study published in the European Heart Journal revealed second-hand smoke dealt irreversible damage to the structure of children’s arteries. Although the dangers of passive smoking are nothing new, the impact it has on children’s insides and how they develop as a result is not common in advertising campaigns and health warnings with regards to cigarettes.
The findings mean that children subjected to parents’ smoke face a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes when they enter adulthood. The research, carried out in Australia and Finland, further claimed that the smoke added over three years to the age of the blood vessels when the children turned into adults. It is said to be the first study to follow children into adulthood in a bid to examine the link between exposure to parental smoking and what is called increased carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT). This measures how thick the innermost layers of the arterial wall are. These findings were based on a study made up of 2,401 volunteers in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study and 1,375 participants in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study, the former started in 1980 and the latter began in 1985.
The participating children were aged three to 18 when the respective studies began. Researchers posed questions related to the smoking habits of parents and used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the artery walls once the children became adults. Researchers discovered that CIMT, when the participants became adults, was 0.015mm thicker in offspring of two smokers than in adults whose parents did not smoke. There was an increase from an average of 0.637 mm to 0.652 mm. It therefore provided clear evidence that passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries and it has a major bearing on their future health.
The results from the study also took into account other factors that could explain the link, including education, smoking habits of children, physical activity, individual body mass index and alcohol consumption. It also included biological cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol levels in adulthood. Nevertheless, the study did not reveal the effect if only one parent was a smoker. The scientists said there were different reasons for this, but one of them said that when one parent smokes, they often do it away from the other members of the family and so reduce passive smoking in the process. As a result, it was not easy to ascertain whether children living with a parent who smokes were at as much of a disadvantage.
Scientists who helped carry out the study that found passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries have called for a blanket ban on smoking in cars. They claimed cars provided one of the most obvious environments where children face passive smoking and it is not easy for them to escape it due to the fact it is a confined space. There are laws in the United States, Canada and Australia that prohibit smoking in private vehicles.
By Robert Shepherd