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Thorax. Dec 2005; 60(12): 1052–1058.
Published online Aug 30, 2005. doi:  10.1136/thx.2005.042960
PMCID: PMC1414787
NIHMSID: NIHMS5994

Childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and chronic respiratory symptoms in non-smoking adults: The Singapore Chinese Health Study

Abstract

Background: Childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke has been extensively associated with childhood respiratory illness; fewer studies have addressed the effects on adults.

Methods: Childhood environmental tobacco smoke exposure in relation to chronic cough, phlegm, and asthma diagnosis was studied in never smokers from a cohort of Singaporeans of Chinese ethnicity aged 45–74 years at enrolment from 1993 to 1998. From 1999 to 2004 subjects were interviewed regarding environmental tobacco smoke exposure before and after the age of 18 and the presence and duration of current symptoms of chronic cough and phlegm production and asthma diagnosis.

Results: Among 35 000 never smokers, fewer had smoking mothers (19%) than fathers (48%). Although few subjects currently lived (20%) or worked (4%) with smokers, 65% reported living with a daily smoker before the age of 18 years. Living with a smoker before the age of 18 increased the odds of chronic dry cough (149 cases, odds ratio 2.1, 95% CI 1.4 to 3.3) and, to a lesser extent, phlegm, after adjustment for age, sex, dialect group, and current and past exposure to smokers at home and at work after the age of 18. Associations strengthened with higher numbers of smokers in childhood. There was no association with asthma or chronic bronchitis. There was evidence to suggest a stronger association among subjects with a lower adult intake of fibre which has previously been found to be protective for respiratory symptoms.

Conclusions: In this large study of non-smokers, living with a smoker in childhood was associated with chronic dry cough and phlegm in adulthood, independent of later exposures to environmental tobacco smoke.

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Selected References

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