Lungs affected in healthy kids of smoking parents

NEW YORK (Reuters) - “Healthy” children of smokers may not show any signs of breathing difficulties, but they may still be experiencing reduced lung function -- which could progressively worsen with continued exposure -- according to a study reported Sunday at the American Thoracic Society’s meeting in San Francisco.

“Smoking parents are bad news for children,” even if the children are “healthy,” Dr. Bert Arets from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands told Reuters Health ahead of the meeting.

Multiple studies have shown that children of smokers have more breathing problems than children of non-smokers, but until now it’s been unclear whether lung function is impaired in children of smokers who don’t have any breathing complaints or diagnosed lung problems like asthma.

Arets and his colleagues assessed the lung function of 244 children aged 4 to 12 without any lung or airway disease and found that children of smoking parents had significantly reduced lung function.

“In contrast to earlier studies, the current study included only children totally free of respiratory disease (asthma) in the past and respiratory symptoms at the moment of measurement,” Arets emphasized. “Other studies included all children, irrespective of respiratory disease or symptoms. If you find abnormal lung function in the latter group, this appears logical.”

“However, our study,” said Arets, “shows that disease-free and symptom-free does not mean normal lung function.”

The trend today is to ban smoking in public places. Arets worries that this might cause parents to smoke more in their own homes, “which might increase the harmful effects for children.”

The researchers are expanding their study to include 2,000 healthy children of smoking parents. Data from this larger group are expected to be available within 2 years.