Child Tobacco Exposure is Related to Neighborhood Characteristics

A recent study by University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital thirdhand smoke researchers found that neighborhood characteristics may be related to tobacco smoke exposure in children. 

May 11, 2022

By Avery Crosley

A recent research study led by thirdhand smoke researcher Dr. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens examines the association between neighborhood characteristics and tobacco exposure in children in these neighborhoods. The study investigated community characteristics like the type and overall condition of housing, walkability of the neighborhood, and whether or not there were resources like libraries and green spaces. The researchers looked at these social and environmental characteristics because they are known to affect physical activity, diet, risky behaviors, and future health outcomes.

The team used data from the National Survey on Children’s Health and categorized children’s tobacco smoke exposure into three different groups: (1) not exposed (i.e., did not live with anyone who smoked); (2) exposed to both second- and thirdhand smoke (i.e., lived with someone who smoked inside the home), and (3) exposed to thirdhand smoke only (i.e., lived with someone who smoked outside the home—did not smoke inside). Neighborhood characteristics included: ethnicity, poverty level, type of housing (rent or own), and available green spaces.

The authors argue that the economic characteristics of a neighborhood can be viewed as indicators of overall rates of child tobacco smoke exposure. They also report that lower-income families live in neighborhoods with fewer green spaces, libraries, and other community assets. The researchers found that compared to children with no tobacco exposure, children born into low-income families are more likely to live with adults who smoke, live in low-income neighborhoods, have fewer neighborhood amenities, and fewer safe outdoor areas. Additionally, lower prices on tobacco products and ineffective or non-existent smoking restrictions tend to increase children’s tobacco smoke exposure. Some policies can offer protection to children from tobacco smoke exposure, but some policies protect children better than others. For example, a property-wide ban on smoking protects children from second- and thirdhand smoke, but allowing smoking in certain areas, like outdoor smoking areas, does not. Outdoor smoking areas cannot protect children from thirdhand smoke—the toxic residue that sticks to hands, clothing, and surfaces near a smoker and can harm others after a cigarette is extinguished.

The authors recommend that healthcare providers ask children about tobacco smoke exposure. Additionally, they emphasize the importance of neighborhood improvements in at-risk neighborhoods to potentially decrease future tobacco use and promote healthy activities for children. The researchers argue that the implementation of neighborhood parks and upgraded amenities may help smoking cessation in adults too. They also recommend that parents who smoke should be provided with resources to quit smoking to lower their child’s exposure to tobacco smoke. Tobacco Quitlines are particularly important as they are a low-cost resource for smoking cessation to eliminate the follow-by-example generational use of tobacco for many young children as they grow into adulthood. However, this is one step to eliminate tobacco smoke exposure.

Click here to read the research study.

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