Pediatric Pulmonologist Warns Of New Second-Hand Smoke Dangers

NEWARK—Pediatric pulmonologist Sushmita Mikkilineni, M.D., already knew the dangers of secondhand smoke to children from years of treating young asthmatic patients. Now, a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is the first to show significant evidence of increased tobacco smoke exposure in the blood of children who live in multi-unit housing, even if no one smokes in their unit.

The study has been cause for concern for Dr. Mikkilineni, the Director of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology Medicine at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ) at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, who treats many young patients living in urban areas and multi-family dwellings.


“Tobacco smoke exposure results in a wide range of health problems for children, including asthma, pneumonia, middle ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome and bronchitis ,” says Dr. Mikkilineni. “This study shows the danger of tobacco smoke to children even if they live in a non-smoking home with smokers in nearby units.”

The study, “Tobacco Smoke Exposure in Children Who Live in Multiunit Housing,” will appear in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics. Researchers compared tobacco-smoke biomarkers in children who live in various types of housing. The study found that among children who live in households where no one smokes, those who live in apartments have a 45 percent increase in cotinine levels (an indicator of tobacco smoke exposure) compared with children who live in detached homes.

Dr. Mikkilineni reports that young, developing lungs receive relatively higher levels of toxins than older lungs. Although an infant takes small breaths the respiratory rate of a child is much higher. Until a child is about 5 years old, the respiratory rate is usually between 20 and 60 breaths per minute compared with adult’s rate of 14 to 18 times a minute. These toxins are irritating and damaging to the airways and interfere with natural protective mechanisms making those exposed more prone to infections and asthma.

Secondhand smoke contains more that 4,000 substances, several of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals, according to the Environment Protection Agency. About 60 percent of American children ages 4–11 are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

“All children deserve to live in a home environment that protects their health and safety,” adds Dr. Mikkilineni.

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