A Finnish study that took place over 26 years found that children who were exposed to second-hand smoke from their parents were more likely to develop plaque on their carotid arteries, in turn clogging them, than children who were not exposed to any second-hand smoke.
The research, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found that children who live in a household with parents who smoke not only have an increased risk concerning their respiratory and developmental health, but also are more likely to have effects on their cardiovascular health, including a higher risk of developing heart disease, that last into adulthood.
Using frozen blood samples from children aged 3 through 18 that were collected in 1980, as well as reports from parents concerning their smoking habits in 1980 and 1983 and ultrasounds of the children as adults in 2001 and 2007, researchers tested the blood samples for cotinine, a byproduct of exposure to cigarette smoke. The ultrasounds were also tested for a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, which can cause the arteries to narrow and increase the risk of blood clots and stroke.
Around 2% of the ultrasounds were shown to have a buildup of carotid plaque by an average age of 36. While over 84% of children from nonsmoking families showed no cotinine in their blood, the same was true for only 62% of children with one smoking parent and 43% of children whose parents both smoked.
The authors of the study suggest that those children whose parents both smoked but did not show a buildup of cotinine in their blood had not been exposed to as much secondhand smoke as those who did show a buildup. This result is possibly due to parents making sure they did not smoke near their children.
Children of smoking parents who did not concern themselves with exposing their children to their smoking habits were found to be four times more likely to have carotid artery plaque than those children whose parents did not smoke.
“What we were able to do that others have not, is show that parents who are unable or unwilling to quit smoking can still limit the impact of their smoking on their child’s future cardiovascular health by changing their smoking behavior to limit the amount of smoke their child is exposed to,” Magnussen told Reuters Health by email.
Researchers suggest that parents who would like to avoid these outcomes should not smoke. As for parents who are trying to quit, researchers suggest limiting their children’s exposure by not smoking in the car or home, and to only smoke while far away from their children. “Not smoking at all is by far the safest option,” said study lead author Costan Magnussen, who is also adjunct professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at the University of Turku in Finland.