Tobacco: a smoking gun for kids' asthma attacks

January 24, 2011 Volume 11 Issue 4
  • Tobacco smoke is reported as a cause of asthma attacks by 73% of parents of asthmatic kids. 
  • Nearly half of parents with asthmatic children say their kids spend time with smokers – who are often the parents themselves.

Asthma is a leading chronic health condition among children and frequently causes visits to emergency departments, hospitalizations, and missed school days.  The number of children with asthma has tripled over the past several decades.

Asthma attacks can be triggered by tobacco smoke.  About 18% of adults smoke in the U.S. overall; in some states, over 25% of adults smoke.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents whose children have asthma about factors that cause asthma attacks, and if their children spend time with tobacco smokers.

Asthma Attacks and Smoking

Nationwide, 14% of families have one or more children with asthma.  Parents of asthmatic children identify many causes of asthma attacks.  While nearly 9 in 10 parents report that getting sick with a cold or the flu is an important cause of asthma attacks, the majority of parents also rate allergies, air quality and tobacco smoke as important factors.  Less important factors are food allergies and contact with animals (Table 1).

Among families with asthmatic kids, nearly half (44%) of parents say their asthmatic child spends time with people who smoke.  Typically, the smoker is the asthmatic child’s parent (74%).  Less often (26%), the smoker is not the parent but is another adult, sibling or the asthmatic child’s friend.

Implications

Asthma is the most common chronic illness of children.  The results of this poll indicate that parents of kids with asthma identify several triggers of asthma attacks that are potentially preventable.  For example, getting a flu vaccine can help avoid attacks due to influenza.  Removing various allergens (for example, dust, mold or dander) from the environment can help control asthma symptoms related to the environment or pets.

But, of all the things that families can do to help their kids with asthma, limiting time with smokers is quite different—for one key reason.  Tobacco smoke is not a natural event like a cold or exposure to pollen.  Instead, smoking is all about other people’s behaviors—and in the case of asthma, smokers are often asthmatic kids’ parents.  Individual determination, support from health care providers and payment for quit strategies from insurers can help adults stop smoking and reduce children’s asthma attacks. 

Just imagine how many fewer asthma attacks might occur if smoking were reduced from 18% to 10%, or even 5% of adults? Recent research suggests that restricting smoking in public places may prevent children’s asthma attacks.  Health care providers and public health officials have the opportunity to make a big difference in children’s asthma, by following parents’ insights about smoking as a frequent cause of children’s asthma attacks.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey   conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered on  August 13 - September 7, 2010 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older (n=1,621) with children from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 61% among parent panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 to 10 percentage points for the main analysis.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Faculty Collaborators: Toby C. Lewis, MD, MPH and Marc B. Hershenson, MD
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

This Report includes research findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.

Q1. Please provide information on each child age 17 or younger in your household for which you are the parent, step-parent or guardian:

1a. Child 1b. Age (begin with oldest child) 1c. Gender 1d. In general, how would you rate this child’s health? 4e. Does this child have a regular health care provider? 4f. Does this child have…
1.  [RANGE 0 TO 5 MOS, 6 TO 11 MOS, 1-17] __M
__F
__Excellent
__Very Good
__Good
__Fair
__Poor
__Yes
__No
__Allergies
__Asthma
__Other breathing problem
__None of the above
2. [RANGE 0 TO 5 MOS, 6 TO 11 MOS, 1-17] __M
__F
__Excellent
__Very Good
__Good
__Fair
__Poor
__Yes
__No
__Allergies
__Asthma
__Other breathing problem
__None of the above

Q2.  Has your [INSERT AGE X]-year-old child been diagnosed with any of the following conditions by a doctor?
Check all that apply.

  • Asthma
  • Wheezy bronchitis
  • Reactive airway disease
  • Other breathing problem
  • None of the above

Q3.  How important are the following factors in CAUSING your [INSERT AGE X]-year-old child’s asthma or breathing problems to FLARE UP (worsen for a period of one or more days)?
Select one response in each row.

  Very Important Somewhat important Not Important
Contact with furry/ hairy animals       
Outdoor allergies (pollen, grass, weeds, etc.)      
Indoor allergies (dust mites, mold, cockroaches, etc.)      
Food allergies      
Getting sick with a cold or the flu      
Tobacco smoke      
Outdoor air quality/air pollution      


Q4. Does your [INSERT AGE X]-year-old child spend time with people who are smokers?

  • Yes
  • No

Q5.  Please indicate the smokers your [INSERT AGE X]-year-old child spends time with:
Check all that apply

  • Mother
  • Father
  • Other adult
  • Siblings
  • My child’s friends

Participants were also asked demographic questions on gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Faculty Collaborators: Toby C. Lewis, MD, MPH and Marc B. Hershenson, MD
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

 

 

Click on an image to download the full-size version

Tobacco Smoking Kids’ Asthma Attacks

Contributing Faculty

Toby C. Lewis, MD, MPH
Marc B. Hershenson, MD