WASHINGTON — Children who live in households with smokers are nearly twice as likely to suffer from "fair" or "poor" health as those never exposed to cigarette smoke, a new federal report released Tuesday found.
The study, the first nationwide look at the overall health impact of pre- and postnatal exposure to passive smoke, said that about half of all children in the United States 5 years of age or younger have been exposed to cigarette smoke. Of these, 28% were exposed both before birth--when their mothers smoked during pregnancy--and after they were born, the study said.
Parents were asked to evaluate the state of their children's health by describing it as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. In households with current smokers, 4.1% of the children--more than 250,000--were described by their parents as in "fair" or "poor" health, compared to 2.4% of children in households where no one smoked and 3.5% in families where smokers had quit.
The report said the findings "show an apparent pattern suggesting that, for most children, fair or poor health appears to be associated with various exposures to cigarette smoke."
But the report added that its findings should be interpreted "with caution" because of possible variations in sampling methods and parental perceptions of their children's health status.
A spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute questioned the validity of the report, in part because it relied on the judgments of parents rather than scientific data.
The survey was conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics as part of an overall study of children's health.
Matthew Myers, a spokesman for the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, called the report further confirmation that "the quickest and cheapest way our nation can improve the health of its children is for parents to quit smoking and for pregnant women to quit smoking."
The study found that the lower a family's income, the greater the likelihood of a child's exposure to smoke.
It found also that the overall rate of children's exposure declined as the level of the mother's education increased--from 67% of children whose mothers did not complete high school to 35% of those whose mothers had attended one or more years of college, the study said.
The study said that black children were more likely to have been exposed to smoke than white children (60% to 49%, respectively) and that non-Latino children were more likely to have been exposed than Latino children (51% to 44%, respectively).