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Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Early Exposure to Secondhand Smoke May Increase Risk for Emphysema

New research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health suggests that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke face a higher risk of developing early emphysema as they mature into nonsmoking adults.

Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting CT scans on 1,781 non-smokers from six United States communities, approximately half of whom grew up in homes with at least one smoker. The scans detected a difference between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker and those who did not, particularly in the number of emphysema-like lung pixels.

For participants who lived with two or more smokers as a child, an average of 20% of scan pixels were emphysema-like, compared with 18% for those who lived with one regular smoker and 17% for those who said that they did not live with a regular smoker as a child.

Previous studies have found that childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) affects perinatal and childhood health outcomes. That exposure is believed to also affect adult respiratory health outcomes, including lung function and respiratory symptoms. However, the results of this study suggest that children’s lungs may never fully recover from the early-life exposure to ETS.

“Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades,” said Gina Lovasi, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, and lead author. “However, emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort.”

The study does not provide information on the time of the ETS exposure during childhood, making it difficult to distinguish whether exposure was in utero. However, the association between childhood ETS and early emphysema among participants whose mothers did not smoke suggests that the effects detected are due to smoke exposure in the home rather than in utero alone. Full Story

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