This study aims to assess the extent of children' exposure to ETS and quantify potential determinants. A total of 2767 children aged 5-14 years participated in an environmental survey in East Germany in 1998-1999 (participation rate 75.9%). A subgroup of 979 children between the ages of 11 and 14 years with complete data on nicotine and cotinine in urine were selected for this analysis. This study population consisted of 73 self-reported smokers (7.5%), 793 non-smokers (81%) and 113 children with missing data on smoking status (11.5%). Nicotine and cotinine concentrations in spontaneous urine sample were determined by high-performance liquid chromatography methods with ultraviolet-detection and corrected for creatinine. Approximately 40% of self-reported non-smokers were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) at home. Non-smoking children exposed to parental tobacco smoke at home compared with not exposed showed in average higher nicotine and cotinine concentration (geometric mean 4.7 microg/l vs. 1.4 microg/l and 8.1 microg/l vs. 2.7 microg/l) and the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for detectable biomarkers ranged between 17 and 22. There were increased rates of detectable biomarkers in urine with increasing numbers of smoked cigarettes in the household (adjusted OR increased from 8 to 54). Maternal smoking showed a stronger effect than paternal smoking. Furthermore, low parental education, cold season, height of dwelling (<or=2.40), urine collected on Monday were statistically significant associated with high nicotine and cotinine excretion levels. Children exposed to parental smoke showed much higher biomarker levels than the non-smoking spouse of an adult smoker. Therefore, children need specifically protection from ETS at home.
Practical implications: As children showed a higher internal exposure compared with adults the health hazards association with passive smoking might have a more serious effect in children. Children are unable to complain and unable to remove themselves from tobacco smoke exposure. Thus, parents should make sure that their children live in a smoke free environment. Each country should take all necessary legislative and regulatory measures which forbids smoking in public places and the home environment even if it requires sacrifices by the parents.