Kids Are Still Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Even When Adults Smoke Outside

Many of us are aware of the dangers of thirdhand smoke in indoor environments, and often people who smoke try to reduce that risk by smoking outside. A team of researchers from Israel asked the question “What happens when people smoke on porches and balconies?” The study shows that children who live in homes where adults smoke outside are still exposed to toxic chemicals.

April 16, 2023
By: Tel Aviv University News

Many parents think that they are protecting their children by smoking on the porch or next to the window in a room. However, a new study by Tel Aviv University finds that, in contrast to such beliefs, restricting smoking to the porch does not protect most children from exposure to tobacco smoke. The research team tested for the presence of nicotine in the hair of children whose parents restrict their smoking to the porch or outside the house. Their findings are worrisome: nicotine was found in the hair of six out of ten children.

The researchers emphasize that “in Israel, home porches should be regarded as part of the environment of the home. Smoking next to a window or in another specific place in the home does not protect most children from exposure. Our recommendations are unequivocal: to reduce children’s exposure to tobacco smoke, smoking should be entirely avoided within a range of 10 meters [~33 feet] from the house. Likewise, in open areas, smokers should maintain a distance of at least ten meters from the children.”

The Porch is No ‘Safe’ Place

The study was led by Dr. Leah (Laura) Rosen from the School of Public Health in Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. Also participating in the study: Dr. David Zucker from the Department of Statistics and Data Science, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Dr. Shannon Gravely from the Department of Psychology, Waterloo University, Canada; Dr. Michal Bitan from the Computer Science Department, the College of Management; Dr. Anna Rule from the Department of Health and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; and Dr. Vicki Meyers from the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Public Policy Research, Sheba Medical Center. The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

In the first stage of the study (published about two years ago), the research team studied hair samples of the children of smoking parents for the presence of nicotine. This provides an estimate of their exposure to tobacco smoke over the past months. It was found that 70% of the children of smoking parents had measurable hair nicotine.

In the current stage of the study, the researchers examined the data by the location of parental smoking. Analysis of the data showed that in families in which the parents restricted their smoking to the porch or outdoors, 62% of the children were still exposed to tobacco smoke.

“It is known that smoking outside the house, even when the doors and windows are fully closed, does not completely protect children from exposure to tobacco smoke,” says Dr. Rosen. “The Israeli situation is of great concern because in many cases, porches in Israel are directly adjacent to the living areas and may even be partially open some of the time. The proximity allows smoke to drift from those areas to the interior of the house. The parents mistakenly believe that the porch offers a ‘safe’ place to smoke.”

“In fact, the children are likely to be directly exposed when they come out to the porch and someone is smoking, or when smoke drifts into the house. Once in the home, the smoke is absorbed into the environment, for example, into the furniture or walls or rugs, and is then gradually discharged into the air over weeks or months.”

“Further, this residual smoke, known as thirdhand smoke, can be absorbed into the body from the environment via swallowing or through the skin, especially among infants and small children. In addition, smoking parents transmit the toxins from the tobacco smoke on their skin, on their hands, in their hair, on their clothing. Therefore, it is recommended to brush teeth, wash hands, and change clothes after smoking, before contact with children.”

Dr. Rosen: “The results of this study show that among smoking families, restricting smoking to the porch does not protect most children from exposure to tobacco smoke.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions regarding when and how the exposure occurs. 85% of tobacco smoke is invisible, and our sense of smell is not reliable, so many parents mistakenly believe that they are protecting their children, while in fact they are exposing them to substantial health risks. As a society, we must safeguard citizens and distance everyone from the risks of tobacco smoke exposure, especially infants and children, pregnant women, and all vulnerable populations,” concludes Dr. Rosen.


Note: Content was edited for style and length.

Click here to read the research study

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