WEDNESDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who smoke at home
could jeopardize their children's academic success and harm their
family's finances in ways that go beyond that of spending lots of
money on cigarettes, according to a new study.
The research, done at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that
children living with smokers have higher rates of respiratory
illness and missed one to two more days of school per year than
their classmates, possibly causing academic troubles.
Moreover, the study found that the family's finances were
undermined when caregivers had to miss work and stay home to care
for their children when they got sick.
Nationally, family members who stayed home to care for children
with smoking-related illnesses lost at least $227 million annually
in forfeited wages and productivity, the study reported. The true
figure probably was higher because missed workdays during school
vacations were not included, the researchers added.
Noting that the damage of second-hand smoke on youngsters'
health has been known for some time, one of the study's authors
said the new research found even more harm resulting from smoking
"The main point is that the harm of cigarette use is more than just health harm. It affects kids' access to education and households' bottom lines," said lead study author Douglas Levy, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Over time, parental smoking at home may result in lower
achievement at school for their children, the study suggested,
pointing to other research that connected missed schooldays and
lower academic performance.
In addition, because smokers "have lower incomes, on average . .
. the economic impact can be potentially serious" for the families
affected, said Levy, who is also an assistant in Health Care Policy
at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Mass General. Some may
risk job loss entirely, the study found.
The research findings were released online this week in advance
of publication in the October print issue of the journal
Overall in the United States, roughly one-third of children live
in a home with a smoker, according to an earlier study by Dr.
Jonathan P. Winickoff, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard
Medical School and a co-author of the new research.
More than half of all children in the United States aged 3 to 11
have detectable levels of cotinine in their blood, a chemical
caused by second-hand smoke, according to the authors.
The study looked at records, culled from the 2005 National
Health Interview Survey, of more than 3,000 children aged 6 to 11
years. About 14 percent of the children in the study lived with
someone who smoked at home.
The average annual income of families in the study was $20,087.
Single parents headed 22 percent of the households with
The data was adjusted to account for factors that could affect
school attendance, including socioeconomic class, family structure,
race and gender. But it still showed that children of smokers
missed more school time than their peers, and that about
one-quarter to one-third of all class time they missed was due to
illness connected to second-hand smoke.
The researchers also found that in homes where two parents or
caregivers smoked, the children missed even more school time than
in homes where only one parent smoked.
Children of smokers were more likely to have had either a chest
cold in the two weeks before they were surveyed or more than three
ear infections in the prior year, although the investigators found
no link to a higher rate of vomiting or diarrhea.
The study found no link between parents' smoking at home and
asthma. But only a small portion of children in the study had
asthma, making it statistically unlikely that a connection would be
found, said Levy. He noted that other research has already
established that link.
The study authors said that absenteeism among children aged 6 to
11 could be reduced by 24 to 34 percent by eliminating smoking in
Calling the database used in the research "the gold standard
survey, huge and detailed," an expert in California said the study
was "quite well done."
"They applied standard statistical methods to answer the questions they were asking," said Dr. Stanley Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and director of the school's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
Exposure to second-hand smoke has decreased over the last 20
years due to family rules about smoking in homes, and laws banning
it in public places, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Glantz said parents are beginning to be more aware of the effect
of second-hand smoke on children. "There has been a lot of movement
on this issue in the last few years," he said.
To learn more about second-hand smoke, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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