Research published by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland (HPA) details for the first time the extent to which children here are exposed to second-hand smoke.
The study, which investigated children’s exposure before and after the April 2007 smoke-free legislation, found that the legislation has had some important impacts on children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. This includes decreased self-reported exposure to second-hand smoke in public places and greater restrictions on smoking within the home.
Dr Brian Gaffney, Chief Executive of the HPA, said: “Second-hand smoke is a threat to the health of children and babies – with demonstrated links between second-hand smoke and respiratory disease, cot death, middle ear disease and asthma.1, 2
“Our research found some encouraging results following smoke-free legislation. In particular, rules preventing smoking in the home were shown to have a positive impact on reducing children’s exposure to second-hand smoke.”
However, the proportion of parents who continue to smoke in the home remains alarmingly high and equates to over one third of Year seven children having a parent who smokes in the home. Despite this, there has been a decrease in the proportion of smoking parents who smoke in the home since the legislation was introduced (from 80% to 75%).
“Parents are a major source of children’s second-hand smoke exposure, and over 40% of all parents in Northern Ireland smoke. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke in the home as they often cannot remove themselves from the source and may have little or no influence on whether smoking occurs in the home or around them. Therefore, more work needs to be done to promote smoke-free homes and cars and to raise awareness of the damage second-hand smoke is having on children,” said Dr Gaffney.
Summary of key findings
There was no significant change in cotinine (a measurement of second-hand smoke exposure) concentrations in the children post-legislation, dispelling fears the legislation would adversely impact on children’s exposure by increasing the levels of smoking in the home.
Children in manual and jobless households were more likely to have parents who smoked, to be subjected to smoking in the home, and to be exposed to smoking on a daily basis.
Children who had no smokers within their family have specifically benefitted from the prohibition of smoking in public places. For these children, there was a significant decrease in cotinine concentration after the legislation.
The proportion of children who said they were never in a smoking location increased from 8% (pre-legislation) to 12% (post-legislation).
Restrictions on where smoking is allowed in the home have increased since the introduction of the legislation, with an increase in the percentage who said smoking is allowed in certain places (24% pre-legislation and 30% post-legislation) and a decrease in those who indicated smoking is allowed anywhere in the home (15% pre-legislation, 10% post-legislation).
Cotinine concentrations were higher both pre and post-legislation when a mother figure smokes, and higher again when both parents smoke.
Children who are more exposed to second-hand smoke may be more likely to view smoking as socially acceptable and may be less adverse to taking up the smoking habit.