The thickening of blood vessels that can occur as a result of passive smoking has been found to greatly increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes later in life.
In a study conducted by the European Heart Journal, results concluded that there is no ‘safe’ level of exposure to second hand smoke, and that growing up in a smoke-filled home can have significant physical effects on a child’s health.
Researchers studied 2000 children aged three to 18, and used ultrasound scans to show how children whose parents both smoked developed changes in the wall of a main artery that runs up the neck to the head.
Although at first these changes were only slight, 20 years later when the children had reached adulthood, they were far more significant and detectable.
Author of the study, Dr Seana Gall, from the University of Tasmania, said: “Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries.
“Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future.”
Although effects were not as severe if only one parent smoked, experts say all children should be protected from second-hand smoke.
Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The negative health effects of passive smoking are well known, but this study goes a step further and shows it can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life.
“If you’re a smoker, the single most effective way of reducing your child’s exposure to passive smoke is for you to quit. If this isn’t possible, having a smoke-free home and car offers the best alternative to help protect your child from the harmful effects of passive smoke.”