The research was presented this week in Singapore at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health. The study looked at 428 children from seven schools in Augusta and compared them to rural counterparts from seven schools in Burke, Jefferson, McDuffie and Wilkes counties. The study looked at levels of cotinine, a nicotine byproduct, in saliva to determine exposure and smoking rates, said principal investigator Dr. Martha S. Tingen, a professor and Charles W. Linder Chair in Pediatrics at GHSU.
Among those studied, 79.6 percent of Augusta children were exposed to second-hand smoke compared to 75.3 percent for rural school children, according to the study. That rate is consistent with previous exposure rates in her studies, Tingen said. Among Augusta children, 14.9 percent were smokers versus 6.6 percent for the rural children. Many of those Augusta children live in poverty-stricken areas where drug use is more prevalent, Tingen said.
“Tobacco use is just one of many things,” she said. Augusta children were more likely to have parents that smoked as well, with 31.1 percent versus 19.8 percent for rural parents, according to the study.
The study rates for children were slightly higher than those recently released in the Georgia 2012 Youth Tobacco Survey. For instance, of high school students that smoke, 10 percent said they started before they were 11 years old, according to the survey, and 6 percent of middle school students were current smokers. Of those middle school students, 60 percent said they bought cigarettes in a store in 2011 without being asked for proof of age, according to the survey.
Tingen is also studying more tailored interventions with children and parents that can help them develop skills for making better health choices. If those result in fewer kids or parents smoking, she hopes they can be implemented statewide.
“The current curriculum we are offering related to health can be improved dramatically,” Tingen said.