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Secondhand Smoke Hurts Children’s Arteries

Update Date: Mar 05, 2014 10:01 AM EST

Several studies have found that smoking and secondhand smoke are extremely detrimental to health. In a new study examining the effects of passive smoke, the researchers found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke have damaged arteries that could increase their future risk of heart attacks and strokes.

"Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries," Study author Dr. Seana Gall, from the University of Tasmania in Australia, said according to BBC News. "Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future."

The researchers recruited 2,401 participants from Finland and 1,3775 people from Australia between the ages of three and 18. The researchers took ultrasound scans to see if the children's main artery, which runs along the neck to the head, changed at all in relation to the presence of smokers within the household. The researchers discovered that children with two-smoking parents had thicker blood vessel walls by 0.015 millimeters. Children with only one parent smoker did not appear to suffer from damages to their arteries.

"We can speculate that the smoking behavior of someone in a house with a single adult smoking is different. For example, the parent that smokes might do so outside away from the family, therefore reducing the level of passive smoking. However, as we don't have this type of data, this is only a hypothesis," Dr. Gall said.

The team added that the differences between the children's carotid intima-media thickness were relatively low. However, in 20 years when the children reached adulthood, the differences in thickness were more significant and identifiable. The researchers accounted for many factors, such as whether or not the child ended up being a smoker. The study's findings reiterate the importance of giving up the habit. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking kills roughly six million smokers a year while secondhand smoke kills another 600,000.

"If you're a smoker, the single most effective way of reducing your child's exposure to passive smoke is for you to quit," Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said "If this isn't possible, having a smoke-free home and car offers the best alternative to help protect your child from the harmful effects of passive smoke."

The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

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