July 11th, 2011
12:01 AM ET
Two new studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics look at how exposure to secondhand smoke affects American youths' learning behaviors and their attitudes toward smoking.
The first found that children exposed to secondhand smoke in the home had a 50% increased risk of developing two or more childhood neurobehavioral disorders compared with children who were not exposed at home.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Tobacco Free Research Institute in Dublin, Ireland used 2007 data from the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics. They estimated that nearly 5 million children younger than 12 are exposed to secondhand smoke at home and up to 8% of them – or more than 274,000 children – suffer from learning disabilities like ADHD and other behavioral disorders.
“[The findings] underscore the health burden of childhood neurobehavioral disorders that may be attributable to secondhand smoke exposure in homes in the States,” the study authors concluded. “This is particularly significant with regard to the potential burden of pediatric mental health care on an overextended health care system, a problem that could be dramatically reduced if voluntary smoke-free home policies were widely adopted,” they added.
The annual medical cost associated with treating a child with a neurobehavioral disorder is about $14,576 per individual, or a national total of about $9.2 billion each year, the report found.
On a more positive note, a second study looked at children 8 to 13 who lived in households with at least one adult smoker, and found that those who described the smell of cigarette smoke as “unpleasant” or “gross” were 78% less likely to start the habit than 8- to 13-year-olds who had a more passive reaction to the smell.
“Experiencing secondhand smoke as 'unpleasant or gross' is protective against smoking susceptibility, suggesting that it may reflect a mechanism for targeted prevention efforts,” the authors say.
Still, a recent report from the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse found that nine out of 10 people who meet the clinical criteria for substance abuse began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before they turned 18, and that this is a big concern in teens as they are more likely to try risky things while their brains are still developing.
Experts say setting a good example by not smoking and getting more involved in your child’s activities are among the many things parents can do to help prevent children from smoking.
Teenagers also tend to be vain, and parents are encouraged to highlight some of the negative effects of smoking, like bad breath and bad skin.
The American Lung Association also provides a list of tips for parents on how to talk to children about smoking and to help them quit if they have already started.
CNN's Sabriya Rice contributed to this report.
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