Parents Smoking Might Be Heartbreaker for Kids

Heart disease may be more common in patients whose parents smoked

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many parents may try to step away from their children when they smoke, but children exposed to even small amounts of smoke may grow up to have heart problems.

A new study that followed children for 26 years found that those raised with two parents who smoked had the most signs of possible future heart damage.

But even children who had only one parent who smoked, or whose parents tried to limit their exposure to smoke, had more buildup of plaque, wrote these researchers, led by Costan G. Magnussen, PhD, of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania in Australia.

Plaque is cholesterol or fatty deposits that build up in the arteries. In this study, the plaque was in the carotid arteries — arteries on both sides of the neck. Too much plaque can block the artery, leading to a stroke.

"Although the study looks specifically at carotid plaque, we know that plaque in those arteries is a marker for cholesterol buildup elsewhere in the body, including the heart" said Sarah Samaan, MD, of Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, in an interview with dailyRx News.

Dr. Samaan said it's hard for most patients to stop smoking, but it's worth it — especially if they have young ones around.

"Without a doubt it is difficult to break the habit, but when you take into account the lasting harm it can inflict on those who are the most vulnerable and most dependent on the adults in their lives, it's really a no-brainer," Dr. Samaan said. "If you can't quit for yourself, quit for those you love."

The risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood was 1.7 times higher in children exposed to one or two parental smokers — compared to children of parents who did not smoke, Dr. Magnussen and team found. Among children whose parents made an effort not to expose their children to smoke, that figure only dropped to a 1.6 times higher risk.

Dr. Magnussen and team looked at more than 1,500 children in 1980 who were part of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The parents were asked about how much they smoked and where. These researchers also took blood samples from the children. They then froze the blood samples.

In 2007, these researchers used ultrasound (a type of imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves) to look at the carotid arteries of the people who had started in the study as children.

In 2014, they defrosted the early blood samples and checked for cotinine levels. Cotinine is a product that is made when nicotine (the primary addictive chemical in tobacco) is broken down.

Cotinine could not be found in the blood of those in homes where neither parent smoked (84 percent). In patients whose parents smoked, only 43 percent of samples were free of cotinine.

“This study demonstrates quite convincingly that parents who smoke will increase their children's risk of cardiovascular disease," Dr. Samaan said.

The less children are exposed to smoke, the better, Dr. Magnussen said in a press release.

"For parents who are trying to quit smoking, they may be able to reduce some of the potential long-term risk for their children by actively reducing their children's exposure to secondhand smoke (i.e., not smoking inside the home, car, or smoke well away from their children)," Dr. Magnussen said. "Not smoking at all is by far the safest option".

This study was published March 23 in the journal Circulation.

A variety of sources funded the study, such as The Academy of Finland and Tampere University Hospital Medical Funds. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 19, 2015
Last Updated:
March 24, 2015