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Kids’ hands can carry high levels of nicotine

A study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center shows that children can carry significant levels of nicotine on their hands. This is through coming into contact with items or surfaces contaminated with tobacco smoke residues. This has been shown through swab tests of the hands of children who live in areas where their parents smoke. As well as nicotine being found on the hands, tests of the saliva of the children also showed worryingly high levels of the tobacco metabolite cotinine, which will have entered the mouth as children rub their lips or lick their hands.

Cotinine is an alkaloid found in tobacco. It is also the main metabolite of nicotine. Cotinine is used as a biomarker for exposure to tobacco smoke.

The study was based on 25 children, with parental consent (one or both parents was a smoker). The typical age of each child was 5 years. A second study, which is underway, is looking at a wider data set, drawn from 700 additional children. The connection between contaminated surfaces in the home with the hands of children and then with the saliva of children shows how easy it is to transmit a toxin through touch alone.

Reviewing the results, principal scientist Dr. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens summarizes: “This is the first study to show that children’s hands hold high levels of nicotine even when parents are not smoking around them.”

The researcher adds: “Parents may think that not smoking around their child is enough, but this is not the case. These findings emphasize that the only safe way to protect children from smoke exposure is to quit smoking and ban smoking in the home.”

The implications from the study are important since tobacco toxins can trigger respiratory and ear infections, plus more severe asthma attacks. The results indicate that if parents need to smoke indoors then surfaces of the home should be regularly wiped with a suitable detergent.

The findings are reported to the publication Tobacco Control. The research article is titled “Preliminary evidence that high levels of nicotine on children’s hands may contribute to overall tobacco smoke exposure.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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