New research, published in the March edition of CHEST – the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians – suggests that race may be a factor in determining a child’s susceptibility to tobacco toxins. The study reveals that African American children with asthma, who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), have significantly higher toxin levels when compared to their Caucasian counterparts.
“African American children suffer from higher rates of tobacco-related disorders, such as asthma, sudden-infant death syndrome, and low birth weight, and we need to know why,” said lead author Stephen Wilson MD, from the University of Cincinnati. “So our goal is to understand how certain populations-particularly those groups who are most susceptible-respond to ETS exposure.”
Dr. Wilson, along with doctors and researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center examined 220 children with asthma who had been exposed to tobacco.
Researchers studied a community-based sample (made up of 55% African American of children), ages 5 to 12. All of the children had been diagnosed with asthma, and were exposed to at least five cigarettes per day at or near their home.
Researchers tested the children for levels of cotinine, by collecting serum and hair samples at the beginning of the study, at 6 months, and then 1 year. Serum samples were the indicators for short-term tobacco exposure and hair samples accounted for long-term tobacco exposure.
“Cotinine is a product of nicotine metabolism,” said Dr. Wilson. “When people inhale or ingest nicotine, the body uses proteins to convert it into cotinine.” He went on to say that measuring cotinine gives a good assessment of a person’s exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
Each child studied had a nicotine dosimeter placed in his or her home, and were used to measure each child’s level of ETS exposure. No differences were reported between African American and Caucasian children in levels of ETS exposure outside of the home or in air nicotine levels at the 6-month or 1-year study visits. But results showed that while African-American children spent less time exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, they much higher levels of cotinine than Caucasian children.
On average, serum cotinine levels in the African-American children were 32 percent higher than in the Caucasian children, and hair cotinine levels were 4 times that of the Caucasian children studied.
“Exposure to tobacco smoke is dangerous for everyone, regardless of age
or race,” said Dr. Mark J. Rosen, President of the American College
of Chest Physicians. “These findings underline the importance of
eliminating environmental tobacco smoke in every setting, especially those
where children are present.”