CINCINNATI — Concerns over secondhand smoke often center around the dangers of children ingesting nicotine from those smoking cigarettes around them. But it turns out children still face significant exposure to nicotine even when they’re not in the presence of smokers. A new study finds that kids hands’ are often a substantial source of nicotine exposure because of their proneness to touching so many different surfaces.
“This is the first study to show that children’s hands hold high levels of nicotine even when parents are not smoking around them,” says Dr. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, co-investigator on the study and a physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s, in a hospital news release. “Parents may think that not smoking around their child is enough, but this is not the case. These findings emphasize that the only safe way to protect children from smoke exposure is to quit smoking and ban smoking in the home.”
Researchers at the medical center along with a team at San Diego State University examined 25 children, whose average age was 5.4 years old, hospitalized with an illness potentially related to secondhand smoke exposure — such as rhinorrhea or difficulty breathing — from April to September 2016. Parents of each child participating in the study identified themselves as smokers.
Special wipes were used to swab the hands of the children for nicotine and saliva tests were taken as well for levels of cotinine, a biomarker for nicotine exposure.
Each child was found to have notable levels of nicotine on his or her hands and all but one child showed a level of cotinine in saliva. Because prior research showed that secondhand smoke can latch onto dust and thus numerous surfaces within a household including toys, not to mention clothes, Mahabee-Gittens argues that a child’s natural likelihood to touch various surfaces and stick their hands in their mouths makes it quite possible that hand exposure is another harmful way for kids to ingest nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that children exposed to nicotine and cotinine can cause a slew of health problems, including respiratory and ear infection, a worsened level and frequency of asthma, and other related issues.
The research team now plans to look a much larger sample of 700 more children.
The study was published March 30 in the journal Tobacco Control.