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Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Can Lead Preteens to Nicotine Addiction

A new study has found that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of nicotine dependence in non-smoking preteens. The study, by researchers from Concordia University and the University of Montreal, also found that preteens who repeatedly observe a parent, sibling, friend, or neighbor smoking cigarettes are more likely to become smokers themselves in adolescence.

Lead author Simon Racicot, a PhD candidate in the Concordia University Department of Psychology and a member of its Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab, said that kids who witness others smoking are more likely to start smoking because they don’t see the habit as unhealthy. He added that they found that kids who had never smoked but were exposed to tobacco were also more likely to hold more positive beliefs about smoking, and thus became more likely to smoke later in life.

The new study builds on previous long-term studies that have looked at the negative effects of secondhand smoke.

Racicot added that they believe this is the first study to demonstrate how increased exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to non-smokers having symptoms of nicotine dependence.

Senior author Jennifer J. McGrath, a professor in the Concordia University Department of Psychology and director of its Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab, said that about 60 percent of children are exposed to secondhand smoke in North America. She added that children who are exposed to the same amounts of secondhand smoke as adults absorb higher doses of nicotine, and that their early findings suggest that this exposure could trigger addiction in the brain, even before kids start smoking.

In the study, the researchers looked at 327 sixth or seventh graders enrolled in French-language public schools, asking them about their smoking habits, the number of smokers in their social circle, and situations where they observed smoking. Racicot said preteens who were surrounded by smokers believed that there are greater advantages to smoking. This suggests that smoking by parents, friends, siblings, and neighbors increases the risk factors for later smoking.

The participants also provided a spit sample to measure cotinine, a by-product of nicotine. Salivary cotinine is an indicator of smoking over the previous one to three days. Only negligible amounts of cotinine were found in this study because the participants had never smoked. In the next study, the researchers plan to measure nicotine samples from hair, which provides an indicator of smoking over the last month.

The researchers said new prevention efforts should be tailored to preteens who are have high exposure to secondhand smoke, and that the general public should be aware of the fact that secondhand smoke can be very dangerous to young people, even leading to addiction.

Racicot concluded that the best thing a parents can to is to prevent their children from being exposed to cigarettes and to secondhand smoke. He added, “…the addictive habit should remain out of sight, out of breath, and out of mind.”

Source: Science Daily, Preteens Surrounded by Smokers Get Hooked on Nicotine, Study Suggests, June 13, 2011

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