An international study, involving researchers at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, has found children who are exposed to their parents’ cigarette smoke may suffer an irreversible impact to their cardiovascular health later in life.
It has been previously known that passive smoke was harmful to children, but this is the first worldwide study to examine the long-term effects on blood vessel health.
Second-hand smoke kills more than 600,000 non-smokers worldwide every year, with 379,000 of these deaths related to heart disease. According to the World Health Organization (2009) about 40 per cent of the world’s children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home.
Data collected for the Young Finns Study in Finland and the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study in Australia were analysed. These two major population-based studies collected health-related data from participants during childhood and again 20 years later when they were young adults.
Named author on the study and Menzies Research Fellow, Dr Seana Gall says that for this present study participants with data on parental smoking in childhood had their blood vessel health measured in young adulthood.
“We looked at blood vessel elasticity by measuring how the ability of an artery in the arm to expand and contract. We found that people who had been exposed to parental smoking when they were children had less elastic arteries, an early indicator of poor cardiovascular health.”
“Importantly, this was not explained by differences in classical cardiovascular risk factors, including the participants’ own smoking status, and the effect was seen up to 27 years later, suggesting a long-term and irreversible effect of passive smoking in childhood on the health of arteries.”
The results highlight the importance of policies that limit children’s exposure to cigarette smoke.
The next stage of this research aims to look further into how exposure to smoking might affect other aspects of heart health.
Dr Gall explains, “We are now looking at whether being exposed to parental smoking is associated with the thickness of the walls of people’s arteries in their necks. This is known to be a predictor of whether people go on to have strokes and heart attacks.”
World no tobacco day is on 31 May 2012. For advice on giving up smoking, contact the Quitline on 13 78 48 or text your name and address to 0408 264 664.