Every parent knows that smoking isn’t healthy for them or their kids. Now there’s another study reinforcing that old news and suggesting that secondhand smoke could be detrimental to a child’s intellectual development.
“Children that were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, even at the lowest levels, performed more poorly on standardized tests,” says study author Kimberly Yolton, a researcher at the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The study, which analyzed blood samples from approximately 4,400 children ages 6 to 16, found drops in test scores for children exposed to even low levels of secondhand smoke. Yolton estimates that more than 33 million children are affected by secondhand smoke and, she warns, that number of “children losing two or three points is profound.”
Not everyone agrees with how Yolton conducted her research, in measuring the levels of cotinine—a substance produced when the body breaks down nicotine—in children’s blood.
Lucille A. Lester, chief of pediatric pulmonary medicine at the University of Chicago, cautions against reading too much into the lower test scores.”The statistical significance might not have any clinical or real world significance,” says Lester. The study, for example, did not look for other factors that might account for the changes.
Still, Yolton’s findings fall in line with what experts in the field say about the harmful effects of smoking.
Researchers were unable to recommend a safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
“Secondhand smoke affects your heart, your mind and your body, especially in children,” says Janet Williams, board member of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “If you have to smoke, take it outside.”
Yolton agrees: “Avoid it altogether because even the smallest amount could have an affect on children’s ability to think and reason.” Kelly Lin, Medill News Service