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Mar 13, 2014

Secondhand Smoke Causes Permanent Damage to Children's Arteries

Exposure to secondhand smoke during childhood ages arteries later in life, study finds.

Parents should think twice before smoking around their children, according to a study highlighting the long-term consequences of secondhand smoke.

Published in the European Heart Journal, this study included more than 3,700 Finnish and Australian children, nearly half of whom were exposed to secondhand smoke during their childhood. Up to 25 years after enrolling into the study, participants later underwent tests that assessed the health of their major arteries. These tests measured build-up of plaque in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can lead to serious health problems, such as heart attack and stroke. Participants were also asked about their personal smoking habits and whether none, one or both of their parents smoked cigarettes. Researchers then compared test results between those who were exposed to secondhand smoking during childhood vs. those who weren’t, the results of which were shocking.

Participants whose parents both smoked during childhood had arteries that were 3.3 years “older” than those whose parents didn’t smoke, regardless of factors such as age, sex and smoking status. In other words, exposure to secondhand smoke during childhood caused irreversible damage to the arteries, increasing risk for heart attack and stroke as an adult.

These findings add to an enormous body of evidence documenting the long-term health effects of secondhand smoking. Since 1986, when the Surgeon General reported conclusively that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, we’ve learned that exposure to cigarette smoke also increases risk for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. The fact that exposure to secondhand smoke causes permanent health damage 25 years later is a testament to the serious consequences of tobacco use and highlights the need for additional anti-smoking efforts. Tobacco remains the leading the cause of preventable death worldwide and efforts to combat tobacco use and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke are crucial to improving America’s health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is secondhand smoke?
  • Secondhand smoke, also referred to as environmental tobacco smoke, includes the smoke that comes from the lighted end of a tobacco product (sidestream smoke) and the smoke exhaled by a smoker (mainstream smoke). Similar to tobacco use, secondhand smoke is a “known human carcinogen,” which means that it’s known to cause cancer.
  • What are the health consequences of secondhand smoke?
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke can have lasting health effects and research shows that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and many other serious health conditions.

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