Wonder why your child’s classmate seems to be more absent than unusual and their seat is frequently empty in the classroom? Well, a new study finds children who live with smokers miss more school due to illness than those who live in households with non-smokers, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers found data from the 2005 National Health Interview Survey, which tracked how many days of school children ages 6 to 11 miss and the reason for their absence. (The study was not without limitations. Children over 12 were excluded from the study because of the possibility that exposure could be due to their own smoking).
The participants of that study were asked to evaluate each child’s general health and to answer the following questions: how many people smoked inside the home, how many school days the child missed due to illness or injury during the previous year, whether the child had three or more ear infections during the previous year, whether the child had a chest cold or gastrointestinal illness during the preceding two weeks and whether the child had been diagnosed with asthma, and if so, whether the child had any recent asthma attacks.
Of the 3,087 children whose information was analyzed for this study, more than 14 percent lived in a home with at least one person who smoked in the house, 8 percent lived with one household smoker and 6 percent with two or more, which represents 2.6 million children nationwide.
Children living with one in-home smoker had an average of 1.06 more days absent, and those living with two or more had 1.54 more days absent than did children living in homes where no one smoked indoors. The research also suggests that families could reduce absenteeism by 24 to 34 percent if smoking was eliminated from their households.
According to the study, about one third of children in the United States live with a smoker. Among children aged 3 to 11, at least 56 percent have detectable levels of a chemical called serum cotinine, which is an indication of tobacco smoke exposure. Cotinine is a breakdown of nicotine in the body and it can be measured by analyzing levels in the blood, urine or saliva.
Researchers like Dr. Douglas Levy, the study’s principal investigator and Assistant in Health Care Policy at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy, agrees this establishes a link between household smoking and two specific respiratory illnesses. But it seems missed school days and health issues are not the only effects of secondhand smoke for young children.
Researchers also calculated the potential costs associated with the need to care for children absent from school due to smoke-exposure related illness. Costs to the family include lost income for parents without paid time off, the costs to employers of the lost work, and the inability of caregivers not employed outside the home to take care of usual household tasks.
The total impact nationwide is $227 million in lost wages and household work for the families of the 2.6 million children living with smokers and for their employers. Overall secondhand smoke affects children’s education, health, and income.
Levy’s advice to parents? “If you are a smoker do not smoke around your kids whether it be at home or in the car. Even better advice is to try to quit smoking.”