Two independent studies, one surveying Shanghai, China residents and the other surveying residents of the Al-Hasa region of Saudia Arabia, assessed parents’ understanding of thirdhand smoke and resulting smoking beliefs and behaviors. The results of the two studies revealed that although most parents and grandparents were somewhat familiar with the idea of thirdhand smoke, a large portion of the residents still smoked and were unsure about the health implications of exposure.
March 24, 2021
By: Leta Dickinson
Tobacco smoking isn’t just a problem in the United States; it kills more than 8 million people each year around the world, including 1.2 million non-smokers (World Health Organization). Children are particularly vulnerable to involuntary exposure to second- and thirdhand smoke chemicals if their parents smoke. Thus, it is especially important that parents are informed about the dangers and persistence of tobacco smoke chemical residue so they can protect themselves and their children.
Two independent studies, one surveying residents of Shanghai, China and the other residents of the Al-Hasa region of Saudia Arabia, assessed parents’ understanding of thirdhand smoke and resulting smoking beliefs and behaviors. The results of the two studies revealed that although the majority of parents and grandparents were somewhat familiar with the idea of thirdhand smoke, a large portion of the surveyed caretakers still smoked and were unsure about the health implications of exposure.
In Shanghai, the researchers from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine were interested in comparing what demographic characteristics (i.e., age, education, gender, housing, children’s respiratory health status) were associated with certain beliefs about thirdhand smoke in parents and grandparents. They surveyed over 800 parents and grandparents of Changjiang Road Primary School students about thirdhand smoke and collected various demographic information about them. The survey, conducted in Chinese, did not explicitly ask parents and grandparents about thirdhand smoke. Instead, it posed questions about how persistent caretakers perceived tobacco smoke to be and about the health risks associated with tobacco smoking.
The familiarity of surveyed parents and grandparents with the idea of thirdhand smoke varied based on demographic information. Similar to previous studies, the researchers found that younger people and those with higher levels of education were more familiar with the dangers of thirdhand smoke. Additionally, residents of newly constructed homes and caretakers of children with respiratory diseases were more informed about thirdhand smoke. Regardless, many parents still were uncertain about either the health effects of thirdhand smoke or its persistence in the environment, indicating that future health interventions and education were needed.
Similarly, researchers from King Faisal University in the Al-Hasa region of Saudia Arabia conducted an online questionnaire of 150 parents, about half of whom were smokers, regarding their familiarity with thirdhand smoke as well as their attitude towards their own and their children’s smoking habits. The survey asked parents if they had heard the term ‘thirdhand smoking,’ what rules they had regarding in-home smoking, if they had received medical advice about smoking, and how they would respond to their child or children smoking.
The survey found that over half of the parents had heard of thirdhand smoke and knew it was hazardous to health. In fact, over 70% of the surveyed parents had rules prohibiting smoking in the house or in a car where children are present, indicating that parents understood the persistence of thirdhand smoke. Of the parents that regularly smoked, over half of them reported that they had received suggestions by medical providers to quit smoking and had received advice on quitting. Since these parents’ smoking habits persisted, other means may be needed to lower smoking prevalence in this region.
Despite a majority of parents understanding the dangers of indirect and direct exposure to tobacco smoke and receiving or seeking medical counsel on how to quit, 45% of surveyed parents said they would accept the decision of their children to smoke. Over a third of parents said they would encourage their child or children to switch to e-cigarettes, indicating that parents may falsely believe e-cigarettes to be less dangerous to human health.
Exposure to smoking and easy access to tobacco products both contribute to children becoming smokers. These studies show that misconceptions about the impact of first-, second-, and thirdhand smoke on human health are still circulating and remind us of that communities all around the world need access to tobacco education and resources to quit smoking. Population-specific surveys like these in Shanghai and the Al-Hasa region shed light on which groups of people could benefit most from health interventions. The global community, nonetheless, can learn from effective campaigns and identification of vulnerable populations.