“Parents may think that not smoking around their child is enough, but this is not the case. These findings emphasize that the only safe way to protect children from smoke exposure is to quit smoking and ban smoking in the home," Dr. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, co-investigator of the study, said in a Cincinnati Children's Hospital news release.
Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the nation, 26 percent. And the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that between 2011-2012, two of every five children aged 3 to 11 in the United States were regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.
The pilot study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, involved 25 children who had visited an emergency room between April and September 2016 for illnesses that could be related to secondhand smoke exposure, like a runny nose or difficulty breathing. The average age of the children in the study was 5, and all their parents were smokers.
Researchers used specially designed hand wipes to extract nicotine from the children's hands and took saliva samples to check for cotinine, which is the product formed after nicotine enters the body.
"Researchers found that the presence of significant nicotine on the hands of children was associated with equally significant levels of the harmful tobacco metabolite cotinine in their saliva," the release says. Such exposure can cause respiratory and ear infections, and more frequent and more severe asthma attacks, and other ailments in children, the CDC says.
The release says previous studies have shown that secondhand smoke accumulates in dust, on home surfaces, on clothes and household objects, like toys. It also notes that young children touch everything and have a tendency to put their hands in their mouths.
This study will be followed up by a larger analysis of more than 700 additional children, with a further look at how much secondhand and thirdhand smoke contribute to tobacco exposure in children and how it affects their health. It will also explore ways to prevent such exposure.