The Troubling Way Nicotine Is Getting Into Kids' Systems

It's not uncommon for parents — even those who are smokers themselves — to make a practice of keeping their kids far away from dangerous secondhand smoke. But, as a new study concluded, ensuring that adults aren't lighting up around children isn't enough to protect them from the harmful effects of nicotine. In fact, the disturbing conclusion is that kids are exposed to nicotine through their hands even if the smokers in their lives stub out their cigarettes in their presence. Behold, even more evidence that what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) always told us about maintaining a smoke-free home is true.

And that certainly seemed to be the case for the 25 children that researchers from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and San Diego State University studied. From April to September 2016, researchers tested children who landed in the emergency room for reasons believed to be related to secondhand smoke exposure, according to a writeup in Science Magazine. All of the kids studied "had detectible nicotine levels on their hands."

It was proof that breathing in residue from cigarettes isn't the only way it can hurt children.

"Parents may think that not smoking around their child is enough, but this is not the case," Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, co-investigator on the study and a physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Cincinnati Children's, said in the summary. "These findings emphasize that the only safe way to protect children from smoke exposure is to quit smoking and ban smoking in the home."

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

What's more, all but one of the children tested positive for nicotine in their saliva. That's "a biological marker of secondhand smoke exposure," according to the CDC — and among the ways that kids ended up exposed to these contaminants, the research team said, is their tendency to put their hands in their mouths. All of the kids tested in the study had parents who were smokers.

Of course it's common knowledge that parental smoking is associated with negative health outcomes in kids. After all, as the CDC points, the home is the most common place where kids end up exposed to secondhand smoke. And that has many tough effects on kids: increased susceptibility to asthma, ear infections, respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, ADHD and other learning issues, childhood cancers, diabetes, and heart issues. One study found that nicotine exposure when fetuses are in the womb could eventually result in hearing loss; Another concluded that parental smoking could help to foster a nicotine addiction in kids when they get a little older, too.

So, this makes it official: Keep kids out of the places where people are smoking and keep smokers away from the places where kids hang out or live — whether they're there are the time or not.