AHA: Secondhand Smoke Especially Harmful to Toddlers

March 14, 2008

Among children who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home, toddlers are more likely than older children to absorb high levels of nicotine and have high levels of inflammatory markers that could increase their later risk of developing heart disease, according to research presented this week at the American Heart Association's 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Colorado Springs, Colo.

FRIDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- Among children who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home, toddlers are more likely than older children to absorb high levels of nicotine and have high levels of inflammatory markers that could increase their later risk of developing heart disease, according to research presented this week at the American Heart Association's 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Judith Groner, M.D., of the Nationwide Children's Hospital and Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues studied 128 children aged 2 to 5 and 9 to 14, most of whom had been exposed to secondhand smoke. They took hair samples to measure systemic nicotine levels, used flow cytometry to assess the prevalence of endothelial progenitor cells, and measured blood levels of inflammatory markers.

The researchers found that average nicotine levels were significantly higher in children aged 2 to 5 than in those aged 9 to 14 (12.68 ng/mg versus 2.57 ng/mg of hair). Compared to the older children, toddlers also had a significantly lower prevalence of endothelial progenitor cells and significantly higher levels of inflammatory soluble intracellular adhesion molecules.

"The combustion of the cigarettes appears to be causing endothelial damage, which is reflected in the increase in soluble intracellular adhesion molecules in exposed children," Groner said in a statement. "Toddlers who are in the vicinity of smokers in the home have a higher dose of tobacco chemicals. They live at home and can't escape. Young children also breathe faster, taking more smoke into their respiratory system."

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