The researchers wanted to examine whether raising awareness of children’s exposure might change their parents’ behavior.

Some 70% of children with parents who smoke were found to have nicotine residue in hair samples, according to research done by the Sackler Medical School of Tel Aviv University.

The study was peer-reviewed and published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The researchers wanted to examine whether raising awareness of children’s exposure might change parents’ behavior. About 140 Israeli families, with children up to age 8 where at least one parent smokes, participated in the study.

The smoking average per household was 15 cigarettes per day. A third of the participants reported that they smoke inside the home, and a third said that they only smoke on the porch. 

Researchers tested children’s exposure via a biomarker: nicotine in hair, testing whether nicotine became an integral part of the strand of hair having originated in the body and not just external precipitate.

The nicotine in the inner shaft of the hair represents that which has been absorbed by the child and reached the bloodstream. The external residue was washed off before analysis.

Nicotine residue was found in 70% of the hair tested. 

“To our great dismay, according to Health Ministry data, approximately 60% of small children in Israel are exposed to secondhand smoke and its harmful effects,” said Prof. Leah Rosen, who ran the study.

“Based on the study’s findings, we believe that conducting nicotine testing for every young child in Israel — in the hair, urine, or using other testing methods — may change parents’ perceptions about exposing their children to tobacco smoke,” she said. “Changing this perception can also result in changing behavior, exposure levels and even social norms regarding passive exposure to smoking — both exposure of children as well as adults.”

Prof. Rosen explained to the Post that exposure to tobacco smoke is dangerous, especially for children who suffer both short-term harm (such as the increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, bronchitis, ear infections) and long-term harm (delayed lung development, long-term damage to the cardiovascular system). 

She also said that most Israelis don’t fully understand the damage from active smoking or from secondhand smoke. And they are often unaware that the exposure is occurring. 

“It is critical that they protect their children from tobacco smoke.” Rosen told the Post. “There should never be smoking inside the house, including at windows or on porches. Besides the immediate exposure, the toxins from the tobacco smoke are absorbed into the walls, carpets and upholstery and are slowly released over time. This is known as thirdhand smoke.

“Non-smokers must understand that there is genuine risk in exposure to tobacco smoke, and they must insist upon their right and the right of their children and family members to breathe air that is smoke-free everywhere. 

By Simcha Pasko

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