Those who believe that their children are safe from the harmful effects of tobacco because they always smoke outside their homes, or inside only when kids are away, need to think about again.
A new study has shown that tobacco smoke contamination lingers even after a cigarette is extinguished.
Researchers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) describe this phenomenon as ''third-hand'' smoke.
Lead researcher Jonathan Winickoff, assistant director of the MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy, claims that his team's study is the first to examine adult attitudes about the health risks to children of third-hand smoke, and how such beliefs may relate to rules about smoking in their homes.
''When you smoke - anyplace - toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing. When you come into contact with your baby, even if you're not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breastmilk,'' he says.
He, however, still insists that nursing a baby, if one is a smoker, is still preferable to bottle-feeding.
The researcher points out that tobacco smoke carries 250 poisonous gases, chemicals and several harmful metals, and 11 of such compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous.
He further highlighted the fact that small children are especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they can inhale near, crawl and play on, or touch and mouth contaminated surfaces.
Winickoff says that third-hand smoke can remain indoors even long after the smoking has stopped.
Just like low-level lead exposure, according to him, low levels of tobacco particulates are associated with cognitive deficits among children.
He said that these findings suggest that even extremely low levels of these compounds may be neurotoxic, and thus smoking should be restricted in all indoor areas inhabited by children.
''The dangers of third-hand smoke are very real. Our goal was to find out if people who were aware of these harmful effects were less likely to smoke inside of their home,'' says Winickoff, who is a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Richmond Center.
Winickoff's study shows that increasing awareness of how third-hand smoke harms the health of children may encourage home smoking bans.