Screening for children's exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in a pediatric primary care setting

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005 May;159(5):450-5. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.159.5.450.


Background: The American Academy of Pediatrics (Elk Grove Village, Ill) has recommended that pediatricians assess their patients' environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, but the specific questions most likely to identify children with high ETS exposure are not known. Cotinine is a nicotine metabolite, present in hair, that can be used to quantify months of ETS exposure.

Objective: To develop a brief screening tool that will accurately predict ETS exposure as defined by child hair cotinine level.

Methods: We compared the performance of a series of easily administered screening questions regarding home ETS exposure to child hair cotinine levels. Subjects were a convenience sample of healthy children aged 2 weeks to 3 years of both self-reported smokers and nonsmokers.

Results: Hair samples and questionnaire data were obtained from 291 children. Based on clinical applicability and statistical significance, 3 questions ("Does the mother smoke?", "Do others smoke?", and "Do others smoke inside?") were selected as a valid screening tool to determine children's ETS exposure risk. Maternal report of smoking outside only or smoking few cigarettes per day had no impact on child hair cotinine levels.

Conclusions: It was possible to derive a simple, specific, and valid screening tool that can be used in pediatric offices to identify children at risk for ETS exposure. Further research is needed to test this tool prospectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cotinine / analysis*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Cotinine