Secondhand Smoke

Although the amount of Americans who are exposed to secondhand smoke has decreased, numerous harmful effects still remain, and regular exposure to secondhand smoke affects children well into adulthood. In fact, new research found that children whose parents smoked are nearly twice as likely to have plaque buildup in their arteries as adults, leaving them at a much greater risk for heart disease and strokes.

Researchers evaluated children's exposure to their parents' smoke for three years by analyzing how much cotinine was found in their blood. The individuals were then revisited over a period of six more years to determine the levels of plaque accumulation in their carotid arteries. The study, which was published in the journal Circulation, concluded that adults who had been exposed to smoke during their childhood from one or two parents were 1.7 times as likely to have plaque buildup than adults whose parents didn't smoke.

There was even a noticeable difference in plaque levels between adults who were and weren't shielded from smoke. According to Health Day, "the risk was 1.6 times higher for those whose parents smoked but tried to limit the exposure, and was four times higher for those whose parents did not try to limit exposure."

Also, new evidence by Durham University found that children can be affected by smoke even in the womb. Ultrasound scans showed that the fetuses of moms who smoked had a much higher rate of mouth movements than what was normally expected.

As a parent, the only way to ensure that your children will not suffer from the dangers of secondhand smoke is to simply not smoke. For parents trying to quit, reduce a child's exposure by keeping a distance while smoking, and never smoke inside your home and car, says Costan Magnussen, a senior research fellow at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania in Australia.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

Image: Man holding cigarette via Shutterstock