UC research details damage to babies’ lungs from smoke
August 15, 2006
• Secondhand smoke poses great dangers, scientists say
• ‘Significant damage’ to lungs
Kent Pinkerton, a UC Davis professor of pediatric medicine. (Photo by Sylvia Wright, UC Davis)
Secondhand smoke poses the threat of significant damage to the lungs of newborn babies, and even those unborn, scientists at the University of California, Davis, report Tuesday.
The findings illustrate with increased urgency the dangers that smokers' families and friends face, says UC Davis Professor Kent Pinkerton, and should give family doctors helpful new insight into the precise hidden physical changes occurring in their young patients' lungs.
"Smoke exposure causes significant damage and lasting consequences in newborns," Mr. Pinkerton says. "This research has a message for every parent: Do not smoke or breathe secondhand smoke while you are pregnant. Do not let your children breathe secondhand smoke after they are born."
Mr. Pinkerton says the results from the study are further proof that secondhand smoke's effects on children are not minor, temporary or reversible.
"This is the missed message about secondhand smoke and children," he says. "Parents need to understand that these effects will not go away. If children do not grow healthy lungs when they are supposed to, they will likely never recover. The process is not forgiving and the children are not going to be able to make up this loss later in life."
The 2006 Surgeon General's Report on secondhand smoke estimates that more than 126 million residents of the United States age 3 or older are exposed to secondhand smoke. Among children younger than 18 years of age, an estimated 22 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke in their home; estimates range from a national low of 11.7 percent in Utah to 34.2 percent in Kentucky.
The UC researchers found that environmental tobacco smoke wreaks havoc in babies at a critical time in the development of lungs -- when millions of tiny cells called alveoli are being formed.
Alveoli are the place where oxygen passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. Human infants are born with only about one-fifth of the 300 million alveoli they will need as adults. They construct almost all those 300 million alveoli between birth and age 8.
The new UC Davis research is reported in Tuesday's issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The lead author is Cai-Yun Zhong, a former UC Davis graduate student now working at ArQule Biomedical Institute in Boston; the co-authors are Ya Mei Zhou, also a former UC Davis graduate student and now investigating breast cancer signaling pathways at Buck Research Institute in Novato; Jesse Joad, a UC Davis pediatrician who studies children's lung development and cares for sick children in the UC Davis Health System; and Mr. Pinkerton, a UC Davis professor of pediatric medicine and director of the UC Davis Center for Health and the Environment.
Funding for the study, "Environmental Tobacco Smoke Suppresses Nuclear Factor Kappa B Signaling to Increase Apoptosis in Infant Monkey Lungs," was included in a five-year, $1.5 million research grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and $450,000 from taxes on sales of tobacco products in California.