Secondhand Smoke Laws May Reduce Childhood Ear Infections

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers and colleagues from Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society have found that a reduction in secondhand smoking in American homes was associated with fewer cases of otitis media, the scientific name for middle ear infection. The study appears on January 26, 2011, as an online first article on the website of the journal Tobacco Control.

Secondhand Smoke Laws May Reduce Childhood Ear Infections
Photo by Emily Walker

“Our study is the first to demonstrate the public health benefits to children of the increase in smoke-free homes across the nation. It also is the first study to quantify over the past 13 years a reversal in what had been a long-term increasing trend in middle ear infections among children,” said lead author Hillel Alpert, research scientist in HSPH’s Department of Society, Human Development, and Health. “If parents avoid smoking at home, they can protect their children from the disease that is the most common cause of visits to physicians and hospitals for medical care,” he said.

Secondhand smoke (smoke from a burning cigarette combined with smoke exhaled by a smoker) has been shown to increase the level of unhealthy particles in the air, including nicotine and other toxins. In 2006 the U.S. Surgeon General stated that enough evidence existed to suggest a link between parents’ smoking and children’s ear infections.

Otitis media is the leading reason for visits to medical practices and hospitals among U.S. children, with an annual estimated economic burden of $3 billion to $5 billion. Children’s visits for otitis media increased steadily from 9.9 million in 1975 to 24.5 million visits in 1990. However, the researchers found the average annual number of outpatient visits for otitis media in children aged 6 years and younger dropped 5%, and hospital discharges fell by 10% per year from 1993 to 2006. (The researchers note that other factors may have contributed to the decline, including a pneumonia vaccine that was introduced in 2000.)

To determine the number of smoke-free households, the researchers used data from the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey. They found voluntary no-smoking rules in households nearly doubled from 45% in 1993 to 86% in 2006, most likely due to increased awareness of secondhand smoke hazards and a reduction in the number of people smoking in homes.

“Smoke-free rules in homes are extremely important to protect children, given the many adverse effects that secondhand tobacco smoke exposure has on child health,” Alpert said.

Marjorie Dwyer @ Harvard School of Public Health

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  • DJ Rosen

    Second hand smoke might also be the cause of extraterrestrial visitations by the bionic Bigfoot as well. Anything is possible, but not too likely. Second hand smoke might also cause a shift in the polar axis.

  • Gordon

    You know, I would just love to know how these “scientists” come up with some of these revelations, and how much of our tax-payers money was spent on them. When you use words like “enough evidence” and “suggest” in the same sentence, how certain is the data? Then they make apocalyptic pronouncements that are obvious to the most casual observer like, “Second hand smoke… has been shown to increase the level of unhealthy particles in the air, including nicotine and other toxins.” Well – DUH! The same can be said of a campfire or car’s exhaust.
    I find it amazing that every incidence of cancer where the person smokes is directly attributed to the smoking, and every person that gets cancer and doesn’t smoke? Must be second hand smoke. I recently read an article that stated that recent evidence “suggests” that 40,000 people died last year from cancer from second hand smoke. I would really like to know how they determined this. The scientists monitored the amount of secondhand smoke each person received throughout their life? What about the other 200+ known carcinogens that exist?
    Another aspect of this story I just love is how they state that children’s visits for ear infections increased from 1975 to 1990, and at the same time the number of households that were smoke-free also nearly doubled. So, we have fewer smoking households, and more ear infections, and this provides “enough evidence” to “suggest” that second hand smoke caused the increase in infections?
    Listen, if you want to jump on a bandwagon, let’s go for triple taxation and reduction in the consumption of alcohol. Look at how many deaths there are per year, not to mention non-lethal accidents and – believe it or not – CANCER and other health related illnesses, are caused by imbibing alcohol. A person can have 5 DUIs and still be okay, but have one cigarette anymore and you’re a pariah for life.