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Exposure to tobacco smoke in childhood home associated with early emphysema in adulthood

Posted Dec 28 2009 9:09am

Children regularly exposed to tobacco smoke at home were more likely to develop early emphysema in adulthood. This finding by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health suggests that the lungs may not recover completely from the effects of early-life exposures to tobacco smoke (ETS). The study is published in the December 2009 American Journal of Epidemiology.

This population-based research is the first to examine the association of childhood ETS with early emphysema by CT scan in nonsmokers. Approximately half of the participants in this large multiethnic cohort had at least one regular cigarette smoker in their childhood home. Participants with more childhood ETS exposure had more emphysema-like lung pixels; an average of 20% of scan pixels were emphysema-like for those who lived with two or more smokers as a child, compared with 18% for those who lived with one regular smoker, or 17% for those who said that they did not live with a regular inside smoker as a child.

The researchers studied CT scans of 1,781 non-smokers without clinical cardiovascular disease recruited from six communities in the United States, including northern Manhattan and the Bronx, New York. Those reporting childhood ETS exposure were somewhat younger, with an average age of 61; were more likely to be non- Hispanic white; and less likely to have been born outside the United States. These differences were statistically controlled in the analyses.

“We were able to detect a difference on CT scans between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker as a child and those who did not,” observed Gina Lovasi, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades.”

Previous studies have found evidence that childhood ETS exposure affects perinatal and childhood health outcomes, and that adult exposure may affect adult respiratory health outcomes, including lung function and respiratory symptoms.

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