CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Researchers studying the harmful health effects of tobacco report that black children exposed to secondhand smoke "have significantly higher toxin levels when compared to their Caucasian counterparts." The study of 220 children with asthma found that the African- American youngsters had higher levels of cotinine, a product of nicotine metabolism in the human body. The presence cotinine means a human was exposed to tobacco smoke, which is the only known source of the chemical marker. All of the youngsters, between ages 5 and 12, lived in homes with smokers who lit up at least 5 times a day.
There were 121 black kids in the study.
Steven Wilson, a physician at the University of Cincinnati who led the project, said black children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke have a tended to become more ill. He said the reasons are still murky.
"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. So our goal is to understand how certain populations -- particularly those groups who are most susceptible -- respond to ETS [secondhand smoke] behavior."
The research is published in the current issue of CHEST , the American College of Chest Physicians' medical journal. The researchers reported the white children in the study lived in homes where there was more smoking, which they measured with nicotine dosimeters over a six-month period. A summary of the study released by the American College of Chest Physicians said:
"Results indicated that while African-American children spent less time exposed to ETS (secondhand smoke) they showed significantly higher levels of cotinine compared to Caucasian children. On average, serum cotinine levels in the African-American participants were 32% higher than in the Caucasian participants, and hair cotinine levels were 4 times that of the Caucasian participants."
Wilson said there appears to be some unexplained process in the body that allows whites to 'handle' smoke differently than blacks. He said there could be racial differences in how other tobacco toxicants are processed as well. Mark J. Rosen, the president of the 16,600-member American College of Chest Physicians said smoking is hazardous period. He said secondhand smoke must be eliminated from all settings.
"Exposure to tobacco smoke is dangerous for everyone, regardless of age or race. These findings underline the importance of eliminating environmental tobacco smoke in every setting, especially those where children are present."
A CDC factsheet about secondhand smoke is HERE.