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Almost every child in America has nicotine on their hands — even those living in homes where no one smokes, a new study finds.
Researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU), in California, found that 96 percent of children had traces of nicotine on their hands, with equal levels across children from houses that had or did not have a smoker.
They warn that children are regularly exposed to trace amounts of the highly addictive, dangerous, substance, and may even be carrying it around on their body.
The experts also say that nicotine can end up on children’s hands when its residue collects and lingers on surfaces in homes, where it appears as dust particles.
They also said youngsters were more likely to ingest it due to more frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors, where it could pose a risk due to their developing organs and immature immune systems.
Dr Penelope Quintana, a professor an environmental health at SDSU who took part in the study, said it was a ‘wake-up call’ on substances that could be lurking in households.
Researchers led by San Diego State University, in California, swabbed the fingers of 500 children who were around six years old.
Children from black families and those earning less than $15,000 a year were most likely to have nicotine on their hands. The above chart shows nicotine levels on the hands of children who lived with smokers (yellow line) and non-smokers (blue line)
Researchers, who published their findings in JAMA Network Open, swabbed the fingers of 500 children who were around six years old for the study. Three-fifths were from non-smoking homes.
Children were considered protected from tobacco exposure if they lived in homes where no one smoked or vaped, and had no contact with tobacco users over the previous week.
Researchers swabbed all five fingers on the child’s dominant hand — mostly the right hand — and tested the samples for nicotine.
Out of the 193 children from homes with smokers, 189 (97 percent) were found to have nicotine on their hands.
Among the 311 children who lived in homes where no one smoked, 296 (95 percent) were found to be carrying nicotine.
Children from households earning $15,000 or up to $30,000 a year were six and two times more likely to have carry nicotine compared to families earning more than this.
Black children were also more likely to have nicotine on their hands than those from white households.
Quintana warned children from households earning less than $15,000 a year and ethnic minority groups had the highest amounts of nicotine on their hands.
Scientists said children were at greater risk of picking this up — termed thirdhand smoke (THS) — than adults because they spend more time indoors.
Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, and is used both in them and associated products such as vapes.
‘Low-income children and children of black parents have the most of this involuntary exposure,’ Quintana said.
‘This is a wake-up call to protect vulnerable children and is an overlooked part of housing disparities.’
Experts warn that nicotine could be lingering around the home, even in households where there is not anyone who smokes
Dr Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre and who led data collection for the project, said: ‘One result of this research should be to include thirdhand smoke as part of parental smoking cessation education programs.’
The study relied on just one area of the U.S., and it is not clear whether its results summarize the status in the rest of the country.
About 12.5 percent of adults smoke in the U.S., but in California only 10 percent smoke. It has the second-lowest smoking rates in the country.
West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana have the highest smoking rates in the country, where more than two in ten adults use cigarettes.
But Utah, California and Massachusetts have the lowest rates.