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Secondhand Smoke Attacks Infant Lungs at Critical Period of Cell Growth

It is well documented that children exposed to secondhand smoke face an increased risk of respiratory infections. A new study in the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine examines the impact of ambient smoke on lung cell formation in newborns.

Researchers at the University of California Davis analyzed tissue samples from infant Rhesus monkeys who had been exposed to secondhand smoke. Lead author Kent Pinkerton says under these conditions, the chemical signals that govern cell growth told cells to turn off. "This actually led to an increase in cell death," he says.

Secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals, including 50 known carcinogens. Pinkerton says the study analyzed how those destructive forces work during the early years when lungs are developing. "I think what it is telling us is that the types of things that are going on in the lungs of infants prior to birth or immediately following the birth of those children, those signals and those processes that are very important in the development of the lung are very susceptible to effects of second hand smoke."

Pinkerton says young lungs are particularly vulnerable because 80% of the tiny air sacs in the lungs develop after birth. He says the next step for his research team is to determine whether the damage that was seen in the infant monkeys has any effect over time.