New research suggests children exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk to develop a variety of mental and physical health problems.

Investigators presented findings that show significantly higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), headaches and stuttering among children exposed to secondhand smoke than those who are not exposed.

Study results were shared at an international conference (Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health) in Sydney, Australia.

The U.S. study asked about exposure to cigarette smoke at home among children aged four to 11 and adolescents aged 12 to 15, and also measured the cotinine levels in their blood, which tells researchers how much exposure to tobacco smoke a person has had.

After controlling for socioeconomic factors and prenatal exposure, the study found children exposed to secondhand smoke had double the rate of ADHD (10.6 percent compared to 4.6 percent), almost double the rate of stuttering (6.3 percent compared to 3.5 percent) and an increased rate of headaches (14.2 percent compared to 10.0 percent).

Adolescents also had significantly higher rates of headaches (26.5 percent compared to 20.0 percent).

Researcher Wendy Max, professor of health economics at the University of California San Francisco, said the results showed children’s exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke could have a negative impact on their learning and education, as well as their health and overall wellbeing.

“Our research shows children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are impacted in three different areas of their development. These physical and mental problems are a disadvantage to a child’s cognitive and social development,” Professor Max said.

“Children in countries with high smoking prevalence are at greatest risk. As smoking rates in developed countries continue to fall, the burden of childhood exposure to secondhand smoke will be disproportionately borne by countries that already face economic disadvantages.”

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said the research added to evidence that smoking not only harms active smokers but also those around them, with children often at highest risk.

“The right to a smoke-free childhood is a basic human right,” Professor Olver said.

“Governments need to work together to educate communities everywhere about what smoking is – an addiction that kills more than half of those addicted and harms others as well, particularly where smoking is unregulated.”

Source: Cancer Council Australia