The good news is that fewer teenagers in the US are smoking, but the bad news is that secondhand smoke is still a significant problem for young people, according to a government study.
Approximately 50% of students in middle school and high school were exposed to secondhand smoke in 2013, with smokers’ rates of exposure even higher, writes the Associated Press.
Even though previous studies involving teens and secondhand smoke in particular places, including cars or inside rooms, found that the issue had become less severe in recent years, the new study suggests that this problem is still affecting millions of adolescents.
“These findings are concerning because the U.S. surgeon general has concluded that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure,” said Israel Agaku, lead author and a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A link has been discovered between children who have been exposed to secondhand smoke and several illnesses such as pneumonia, breathing problems, bronchitis, asthma, shortness of breath, sneezing, coughing, respiratory infections and ear infections. Heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer in adults have been linked to secondhand smoke as well. In infants, the risk for sudden infant death syndrome is also increased.
The study was based on a national survey of over 17,000 middle and high school students who, at least once within the past week, were around tobacco smoke. The study was published in the online journal Pediatrics.
These days, young people can be exposed tobacco smoke in school and other public places, writes Dianne Depra of Tech Times. About 26 states have some form of current legislature that bans smoking in indoor public places.
The agreed upon definition of secondhand smoke is smoke inhaled by an individual who is not smoking from smoke being exhaled by a smoker, or smoke that is coming from a burning cigarette. The smoke from tobacco carries thousands of chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and 70 of which are known carcinogens.
People with low incomes, blue collar jobs, and in construction have shown a higher risk of being exposed to secondhand smoke.
The study found that teens who do not have a ban on smoking in their home or car were nine times more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke compared to teens with 100% smoke-free rules.
Maureen Salamon, reporting for the US News and World Report, quoted study author Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health:
“The findings weren’t really a surprise as much as a call for public health action. The continuing research [on secondhand smoke] really helps us put a finger on who’s exposed and in what location.”
Dr. Normal Edelman, a senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association, called the research useful and added that public no-smoking policies in the US have helped the country’s smoking rates decrease by encouraging smokers to kick the habit. Edelman added that children in homes with smokers are overexposed to secondhand smoke and are most at risk for illnesses.
Smoking rates, which are about 18% presently in the US, need to be further lowered, smoke-free laws need to be increased and implemented, and personal policies by private citizens need to be strengthened to protect children, said Edelman.