CHILDREN WHO ARE exposed to tobacco smoke at home miss more days of school than do children living in smoke-free homes, a new MGH study confirms. The report – which finds these children have higher rates of respiratory illnesses caused by second-hand smoke and details the probable economic costs of increased school absence – has been released in the online edition of Pediatrics.
“Among children ages 6 to 11 who live with smokers, a quarter to a third of school absences are due to household smoking,” says Douglas Levy, PhD, of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at MGH, the paper’s lead author. “On a national basis these absences result in $227 million in lost wages and time for caregivers or their employers.”
The MGH team analyzed data from a nationwide survey of representative households. Adults from homes with young schoolchildren were asked to evaluate each child’s general health and to answer questions such as how many people smoked inside their homes, how many school days a child lost to illness in the previous year, and whether the child had specific illnesses during that year or more recently. More than 14 percent of the 3,000 children whose information was analyzed lived with at least one person who smoked in the house, representing 2.6 million children nationwide. During the surveyed year, children living with one indoor smoker were absent an average of one more day than those living in homes where no one smoked indoors; those living with two or more indoor smokers were absent for one and a half additional days. Illnesses associated with tobacco-smoke exposure – including ear infections and chest colds – accounted for 24 percent of absences in children living with a single indoor smoker and 34 percent for those living with two or more.
“The health impact of living with a smoker is probably more extensive than our study shows, since the survey only asked about three smoking-associated conditions – ear infections, chest colds and asthma – and there are several more,” Levy says. “Since almost half of the smoking households in our study had low incomes, the economic impact may be strongest on households least able to afford it.”
Senior author of the Pediatrics report is Nancy Rigotti, MD, of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy and the MGH Tobacco
Research and Treatment Center, and Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, of MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a co-author.