A new Centers for Disease Control report warns that toxins from environmental tobacco smoke (or secondhand smoke) are absorbed by children at rates more than double what adults absorb. Toxin absorption rates were reported in the CDC’s Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals released in January.

The toxin cotinine is a major metabolite of nicotine and is currently regarded as the best biomarker in active smokers and in nonsmokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. The study measured cotinine presence in participants and broke the results into three groups, persons aged 3 - 11, persons aged 12 - 19 and persons aged 20 years and older.

The group with the highest levels of cotinine was children aged 3 - 11. Levels in children aged 12 - 19 years were slightly lower but still double the rates of persons aged 20 years and older.

"Children are at a greater risk of developing problems from the toxins in secondhand smoke because their bodies and immune systems are still developing," Department of Health Secretary David Hood said. "This study shows that children are absorbing the toxins at a rate double that of their adult counterparts, and that should concern us all."

The Office of Public Health Tobacco Control Program has teamed up with the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Louisiana to encourage more stringent requirements protecting indoor air. While a considerable effort was put forth to create smoke-free environments for adults in the 1990s, little effort has been made to protect areas that children frequent such as restaurants, bowling alleys and indoor sports arenas.

The CDC report notes that children are at particular risk from secondhand smoke, because it can exacerbate asthma and greatly increase the risk for lower respiratory-tract illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

"We’ve already seen an increase in parents choosing to smoke outside and away from their children," noted Al Hannah, Director of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Louisiana. "There is still a lot of work to be done in the public arena, and local communities should use this information to encourage their elected officials to enact stronger health protections against second-hand smoke in an effort to protect all children."

Unlike most states, Louisiana prevents local governments from enacting measures that ban smoking in public places. Recently major cities such as New York, Dallas and Boston have passed smoke-free ordinances to protect public health.

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Louisiana is a network of nonprofit, state and public health organizations with a shared vision to eliminate the burden of tobacco use on Louisiana families and the state’s economy. Director Al Hannah can be reached at (504) 539-9491.

The CDC report is available on their Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.