Nearly All American Children Have Tobacco on Their Hands, Study Finds
Almost all children in America have nicotine on their hands – even those who live in homes where no one smokes, according to a new study.
Researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) in California found that 96% of children had traces of nicotine on their hands, with equal levels among children in homes that had and did not have a smoker .
They warn that children are regularly exposed to traces of the highly addictive and dangerous substance, and may even carry it on their bodies.
Experts also say nicotine can end up on children’s hands when its residue builds up and lingers on household surfaces, where it appears as dust particles.
They also said younger people were more likely to ingest it due to more frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors, where it could pose a risk due to their developing organs and immature immune systems.
Dr. Penelope Quintana, an environmental health professor at SDSU who was involved in the study, said it was a “warning” about substances that could be lurking in households.
Researchers led by San Diego State University in California took the fingers of 500 children around the age of six.
Children from black families and those earning less than $15,000 a year were most likely to have nicotine on their hands. The graph above shows nicotine levels on the hands of children who lived with smokers (yellow line) and non-smokers (blue line)
The researchers, who published their findings in JAMA Network Open, swabbed the fingers of 500 children aged around six for the study. Three-fifths came from non-smoking homes.
Children were considered protected from tobacco exposure if they lived in homes where no one smoked or vaped and had no contact with smokers in the previous week.
The researchers swabbed all five fingers of the child’s dominant hand – mostly the right hand – and tested the samples for nicotine.
Of the 193 children from homes with smokers, 189 (97%) had nicotine on their hands.
Of the 311 children who lived in homes where no one smoked, 296 (95%) were nicotine carriers.
Children from households earning $15,000 or up to $30,000 a year were six and two times more likely to have nicotine than families earning more than that.
Black children were also more likely to have nicotine on their hands than those in white households.
Quintana warned children from households earning less than $15,000 a year and ethnic minority groups had the highest amounts of nicotine on their hands.
Scientists said children are at greater risk of contracting this – called third-hand smoke (THS) – than adults because they spend more time indoors.
Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes and is used in both cigarettes and related products such as vapes.
“Low-income children and children of black parents are most at risk of this unintended exposure,” Quintana said.
“It’s a wake-up call to protect vulnerable children and it’s an overlooked part of housing disparities.”
Experts warn nicotine could linger around the house, even in homes where no one smokes
Dr Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and who led the data collection for the project, said: “One of the outcomes of this research should be to include passive smoking in parent education programs on smoking cessation.
The study was based on a single region of the United States, and it is not clear whether its results summarize the situation in the rest of the country.
About 12.5% of adults smoke in the United States, but in California only 10% smoke. It has the second lowest smoking rate in the country.
West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana have the highest smoking rates in the country, where more than two in ten adults smoke cigarettes.
But Utah, California and Massachusetts have the lowest rates.