smokingChildren exposed to parental smoking have twice the risk of having plaque in their carotid artery 26 years later as those whose parents did not smoke in childhood according to a new study.

Risk to childhood health from passive smoking is long established, but this new research from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania has highlighted the impacts on cardiovascular health through into adulthood.

Study lead Dr Costan Magnussen and his team also found that children of parents who smoked but exercised 'good smoking hygiene' had significantly lower rates of carotid plaque in adulthood compared with children of parents who smoked but exercised poor smoking hygiene such as smoking in the vicinity of their children.

“What we have been able to establish is that the risks to children from passive smoke extend well into their life and also that these risks are not confined to respiratory illnesses. The impact on cardiovascular health in adulthood is significant,” Dr Magnussen said.

Dr Magnussen and colleagues tracked participants in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study who had blood samples taken in 1980 when they were aged between 3 and 18 years. Carotid ultrasound data collected from the same people in adulthood, in 2001 and 2007, was then compared to childhood blood cotinine levels (cotinine is a biomarker of passive smoke exposure) and information from questionnaires on parental smoking behaviour.

Regardless of other factors, the risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood was almost two times (1.7) higher in children exposed to one or two parental smokers compared to children of parents who did not smoke.

Researchers stressed that to provide the best long-term cardiovascular health for their offspring, parents should not smoke. “For parents who are trying to quit smoking, they may be able to reduce some of the potential long-term risk for their children by actively reducing their children’s exposure to second-hand smoke (for example, not smoking inside the home or car),” said Dr Magnussen, who is also adjunct professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at the University of Turku in Finland. “Not smoking at all is by far the safest option”.

Globally, more than 50% of children are exposed to passive smoking, most of them at home.