Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk for heart disease

The study highlights "the harms that may be associated not only 'to others,' but to close and the most vulnerable members of the family," says the lead researcher.

27 Sep 2019 | 07:41

Children of parents who smoke had a significantly increased chance of developing atrial fibrillation later in life, according to a study published in September in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The findings highlight a new association between secondhand smoke exposure and heart rhythm disorder risk.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common heart rhythm disorder, is expected to affect 16 million Americans by 2050. Cigarette smoking has been established as a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, with estimates that 7 percent of all AFib can be attributed to smoking.

Using data from both the original Framingham Heart Study and the Framingham Heart Offspring Studies, the researchers analyzed a total of 5,124 participants under age 18 from 1971 to 2014. Parents were evaluated by a physician every two to four years, and children were evaluated every four to eight years.

Smoking was defined in both studies as participants smoking more than one cigarette daily during the year prior to their study examination. Secondhand smoke exposure was defined as the presence of a parent smoking anything more than zero packs per day. Secondhand smoke exposure was experienced by 82 percent of the children, and parental smoking averaged 10 cigarettes per day.

Among the offspring cohort, 14.3 percent of participants developed AFib over a follow-up period of 40.5 years. For each pack per day increase in parental smoking, children had an 18 percent increase in developing AFib.

"Our observations provide new information pertinent to smoking cessation, highlighting the harms that may be associated not only 'to others,' but to close and the most vulnerable members of the family," said Gregory M. Marcus, MD, professor in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and one of the study's senior authors. "With the rising prevalence of AFib, it is imperative to address modifiable risk factors such as cigarette smoking to reduce the global burden of AFib."

The researchers also found that 17 percent of the children of parents who smoke were more likely themselves to smoke, suggesting another way that parental smoking might predispose children to AFib in the long-term. Previous investigations have also confirmed that a smoking parent increases the likelihood of a child's chance of smoking later in life. Smoking cessation by the parents may lead to a decreased smoking incidence for their children.

Source: American College of Cardiology

The researchers also found that 17 percent of the children of parents who smoke were more likely themselves to smoke, suggesting another way that parental smoking might predispose children to AFib in the long-term.