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Thorax. 1998 Mar;53(3):204-12.

Health effects of passive smoking. 6. Parental smoking and childhood asthma: longitudinal and case-control studies.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.



The relation of parental smoking to wheezing and asthma occurring after the first year of life was assessed by a systematic quantitative review of case-control and longitudinal studies, complementing earlier reviews of cross sectional surveys and wheezing in early childhood.


Fifty one relevant publications were identified after consideration of 1593 abstracts selected by electronic search of the Embase and Medline databases using keywords relevant to passive smoking in children. The search was completed in April 1997 and identified six studies of asthma incidence, seven of prognosis, 22 case-control studies, and 10 case series addressing disease severity.


Maternal smoking was associated with an increased incidence of wheezing illness up to age 6 (pooled odds ratio 1.31, 95% CI 1.22 to 1.41), but less strongly thereafter (1.13, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.22). The long term prognosis of early wheezing illness was better if the mother smoked. The pooled odds ratio for asthma prevalence from 14 case-control studies was 1.37 (95% CI 1.15 to 1.64) if either parent smoked. Four studies suggest that parental smoking is more strongly associated with wheezing among non-atopic children. Indicators of disease severity including symptom scores, attack frequency, medication use, hospital attendance, and life threatening bronchospasm were in general positively related to household smoke exposure.


The excess incidence of wheezing in smoking households appears to be largely non-atopic "wheezy bronchitis" with a relatively benign prognosis, but among children with established asthma, parental smoking is associated with more severe disease. This apparent paradox may be reconciled if environmental tobacco smoke is considered a co-factor provoking wheezing attacks, rather than a cause of the underlying asthmatic tendency.

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