A recent child well-being survey revealed that children in lower income families are more likely to live in a home where smoking is allowed, which the survey said presents a health hazard.
The survey, underwritten by Interact for Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and The United Way, is in the process of seeking proposals from organizations for grant funded projects designed to reduce tobacco use and second-hand smoke. It asked parents and guardians in the Greater Cincinnati area whether they allowed people to smoke in their home.
Figures from the survey suggest that as income levels began to drop, the occurrence of smoking in the home began to increase, revealing a disturbing possibility that children in lower-income families are more likely to be exposed to the dangers of tobacco smoke.
For example, among parents and guardians in a household of four, the poverty line is $25,100, and in that group, 20 percent of the respondents allowed smoking in their home.
In a household of four with an annual income of $50,000 or more, only 4 percent allowed smoking.
But numbers can be deceiving, according to Emily Wherle, Interact for Health’s public relations director.
“Among rural counties, which include your neighbors in Adams, Brown and Clinton, the number that allowed smoking in the home was around 9.8 percent,” she said. “But when that same question was posed to residents in Cincinnati, where incomes tend to be higher and people a bit more affluent, that figure rose to 17.3 percent.”
Christy Kiley, a registered respiratory therapist in Highland County, told The Times-Gazette that tobacco use and second-hand smoke can be hazardous to both a child and an adult, regardless of income or where they live.
“There are a lot of chemicals used today in processing tobacco that are very harmful to your lungs,” she said. “Smoking will eventually lead to COPD, and we’re finding that second-hand smoke will cause COPD to develop in others around them, including children.”
COPD is a medical term for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a chronic lung disorder that obstructs airflow from the lungs and affects more than 11 million people.
“A person suffering from COPD will have difficulty breathing because their lungs aren’t as elastic as they used to be,” Kiley said. “It’s almost like a stretched out balloon, and a person will be have trouble both inhaling and exhaling because of that loss of elasticity, combined with constricted airways.”
Kiley added that most of the cases she encounters are a direct result of smoking, but other factors can trigger the disease.
“It can be caused by a lot of different things, but cigarettes are the biggest cause,” she said. “Somebody that worked in a factory and was exposed to different chemicals, or people that worked in car repair and used spray paint without a mask could develop COPD as well.”
While a child’s exposure to second-hand smoke won’t be as severe as the person actually smoking, Kiley said it will worsen health conditions a child may already have.
“If that child or adult has allergies, or asthma or even bronchitis, second-hand smoke will aggravate it,” she said. “We call that asthma exacerbation, and that’s where a person can’t get their breath, they’ve taken breathing treatments and done everything they could at home, and then we see them in the emergency room.”
Kiley described a new aspect of smoking now being studied by doctors, called third-hand smoke.
“This is where the smoke residue is in clothing, in the carpet and the fabric of furniture,” she said. “So the person isn’t even smoking but the smell is still present, and we’re finding that can be a cause of breathing problems in children, too.”
The Centers for Disease Control list three main reasons why smoking is still an issue with lower-income people, despite health risks that have been known for more than 50 years.
The CDC data shows that lower-income smokers will often smoke the entire cigarette, while those in the higher income brackets tend to snuff it out halfway.
Another reason given is that lower income smokers often try to kick the habit while working alongside people who are still smoking, which can be self-defeating.
The lack of affordable health care is cited as the final reason, owing to the fact lower-income smokers often don’t have or can’t afford health insurance, meaning they don’t have access to smoking cessation programs that are covered by most health care plans.
The survey, which included Highland County, encompassed a 22-county region in southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571