Children who live in households with smokers suffer more respiratory infections and hospital admissions than those who live in places free of smoke since, in and of themselves, children are more vulnerable to passive smoking due to their smaller body surface and because before 18 months spend 60 to 80% of the time at home.
These are the main conclusions of a study published in the journal "Prevention of Smoking", of the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (Separ), which has found that children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (HAT) receive a total annual nicotine dose equivalent to smoking between 60 and 150 cigarettes.
The number of episodes of upper respiratory tract infections in exposed children was higher than those not exposed, whether the father was the smoker or the mother the smoker.
Children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke had an average of nine episodes of respiratory infections versus 7.4 of unexposed children; 11.8 consultations with the pediatrician compared to 9.4 of those not exposed; an average of referrals to specialized care of 1.9 versus 1.1; and 0.3 of income for respiratory infections compared to 0.2.
In contrast, in the case of lower respiratory tract infection, only the difference in the number of episodes in exposed and unexposed children when the mother was the smoker was statistically significant.
By type of respiratory infection, children exposed to HAT had a significantly higher number of episodes of bronchiolitis than those not exposed.
Of the total of 150 children who participated in the study, 88 went to the nursery, and among them has seen a greater number of episodes and consultations, with respect to those who do not attend. Also, with respect to the children who go to the nursery, children exposed to HAT present a greater number of episodes and consult the pediatrician for laryngitis.
The results regarding the smoking habit of adults who live with children are the following: 37% of parents declared themselves smokers, compared to 26% of mothers (the sum of 19% who smoked during pregnancy and 7% who did not smoke in pregnancy) and 46% of the main caregivers.
"These data reflect the fact that there is a high percentage of smokers in households with children and a high percentage of pregnant women who continue with their habit during pregnancy, as well as smokers in the group of primary caregivers", according to Eva de Higes, pulmonologist at the Fundación Alcorcón Hospital in Madrid and director of the journal Separ's Prevention of Tobacco (Spanish Society of Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery).
Pneumologists are concerned that caregivers represent the highest percentage of smokers (46%), since "this group is probably least aware of the risks involved in exposing children to HAT and continues with their smoking habit", according to the doctor.