Parents now have another important reason to keep kids away from second-hand smoke. A new study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry links childhood smoke exposure to hyperactivity and behavior issues.
Lead author of the study, Lisa Gatzke-Kopp, PhD offers, “There is a lot of emphasis on the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, but our findings indicate that children continue to be vulnerable to the adverse effects of nicotine exposure during the first several years of life.”
And while research on the dangers of smoke for infants has typically focused on respiratory problems, the new research shows lung issues may be the tip of the iceberg.
The researchers looked cotinine levels in the saliva of over 1,000 children under the age of 4 (cotinine is found in the saliva of people exposed to smoke). Then they checked for behavioral and attention issues when the children reached first grade.
Unfortunately, children exposed to smoke were more likely to show hyperactivity and behavioral issues—even after researchers controlled for income, parents’ level of education and a host of other factors. And this was still true, even if those kids’ moms did not smoke during pregnancy.
What parents can do
The study’s authors suggest that, just as children are now routinely screened for lead exposure, it may make sense to test children for cotinine levels as well. Being sure not to smoke around children, not smoking indoors where kids live, and making sure your kids aren’t exposed to smoke at friends’ or relatives’ homes will help keep their cotinine levels down.
The study authors also recommend teaching families how to rid their homes of second hand smoke residue, including cleaning surfaces and clothing where smoke settles. Even if no one in the house smokes, it’s possible that a previous owner or renter did, and those chemicals can linger. Smoke residue clings to walls, the dust on ceiling fan blades, and other hard surfaces, so thoroughly wiping them down will help rid your home of chemicals from smoke.
Beyond clothing, items to consider laundering include curtains or draperies, bedding, decorative pillow covers, and furniture slipcovers. Vacuuming and mopping floors is a great step, but if possible it’s even better to rent or borrow a carpet cleaner to steam clean carpets and large upholstered items. Finally, tobacco smoke can circulate throughout an entire home via the ventilation system, so if you have access to the furnace, changing the filter can help keep your child’s newly cleaned environment fresh and healthy.