Secondhand smoke linked to kids' learning disabilities, behavioral problems

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(CBS) Lung cancer? Heart disease? Yellow teeth? A new study suggests smokers may have a new reason to quit. Their habit might be causing their kids to develop behavioral problems.

"Parents should consider banning smoking from their homes," study co-author Hillel Alpert, research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, told HealthDay.

For the study, published in the July issue Pediatrics, researchers looked at data on more than 55,000 children under age 12 that were part of the 2007 National Survey on Children's Health. Of these kids, the researchers found 6 percent lived with smokers. How did these kids fare in a secondhand smoke environment? Eight percent of them had learning disabilities, six percent had ADHD, and nearly 4 percent had behavioral and conduct disorders - such as bullying or oppositional defiance.

But it gets worse, according to the authors. A lot of these kids have more than one of these problems.

"We found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the home have a 50 percent increase in odds of having two or three of these common neurobehavioral disorders," study co-author Hillel Alpert, research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, told WebMD.

The authors aren't sure what about secondhand smoke triggers these problems in kids, or whether their mothers smoked throughout pregnancy. But compared to the incidence of these disorders among non-smoking homes, the link is evident. The researchers said more than 274,000 excess cases of these disorders could be prevented if kids hadn't been exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.

"They're in a developmental stage and their body is growing," which puts kids at a greater risk, Alpert told Healthday.

But learning disabilities aren't the only problems linked to secondhand smoke.

According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoking causes up to 300,000 lung infections in children under 18 months old, severe asthma attacks for up to 1 million children, and more than 750,000 ear infections in kids. Adults don't fare much better. Secondhand smoke kills 46,000 people a year from heart disease, and 3,400 people from lung cancer.

"The key message for parents is to protect their children from exposure to secondhand smoke," Alpert told Reuters Health. "There's still a lot left to be done."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on secondhand smoke.

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