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Rock Doc: Passive smoke affects kids’ long-term health

By E. Kirsten Peters, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

peters-e-k-2010-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Years ago I was a light smoker. Back in the day I thought nicotine did good things for my ability to think and learn. I was a serious student at the time, studying intensively seven days a week, so a powerful complement to black coffee was welcome in my life.

I both sympathize and empathize with smokers around me today. But I’m awfully glad I quit long ago, and I know many other former smokers who feel the same way. Quitting is worth all the short-term distress it can entail.

Some recent scientific news got me thinking again about smoking and how it affects both smokers and those around them. In short, there’s plenty of evidence that passive or second-hand smoke is detrimental to people living with smokers. That means that quitting helps not just smokers, but those who share homes (and cars) with them.

Arteries thicker, ‘older’

Recently the European Heart Journal published a study about the effects of parental smoking on kids. The research focused on some 2,400 children in a cohort in Finland and over 1,300 in a group in Australia.

Researchers noted the smoking behavior of parents – whether the adults were non-smokers or if one or both of them smoked. When the kids grew up, the researchers examined the kids’ arteries via ultrasound.

The study found that artery walls were thicker in kids who had grown up in homes where both parents smoked. Thicker arteries are bad news, making for greater risk of strokes or heart attacks.

On average, the kids who grew up in homes where both parents smoked had arteries that were 3.3 years “older” than those who grew up in smoke-free homes. These changes were permanent – a sobering fact to contemplate for any parent (and, I might add, any grandparent around the grandkids).

Seana Gall, lead author of the study, told the news website ScienceDaily, “Parents…should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future.”

Tackle the habit

There was further bad news for kids who had two parents who smoked.

“Those with both parents smoking were more likely, as adults, to be smokers or overweight than those whose parents didn’t smoke,” Gall said.

Once again, the news from the world of medical research suggests it’s time for people to quit smoking. If you smoke and you have kids (or grandkids) to consider, please talk with your health care provider about an approach to help you kick the habit.

Even if you’ve tried in the past to quit but have failed, this next effort could set you free. It took me more than one attempt to quit, but it was one of the best things I did back in the day.

I know first-hand it ain’t easy to stop smoking. But the life you save might be your own – and you could also be helping the next generation avoid permanent and harmful changes to their young bodies.

I’m pulling for both you and your family.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

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