The effects of childhood environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure on respiratory symptoms were investigated in 6053 kindergarten-aged children residing in 15 districts of northern China. Responses to a self-administered questionnaire completed by parents of children from 30 kindergartens were used to ascertain children with persistent cough, persistent phlegm, asthma symptom, current asthma, wheeze and wheeze without asthma. In first 2 years ETS exposure and current ETS exposure were associated with increased prevalence of persistent cough, persistent phlegm, wheeze and wheeze without asthma. Among boys, ETS exposure was associated with more respiratory symptoms and diseases than in girls. ETS exposure during pregnancy was associated with asthma symptom [odds ratio (OR), 3.00; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.28-7.03], current asthma (OR, 3.38; 95% CI: 1.25-9.14), persistent cough (OR, 1.64; 95% CI: 1.13-2.37), persistent phlegm (OR, 1.74; 95% CI: 1.01-3.01), wheeze (OR, 1.75; 95% CI: 1.15-2.68), and wheeze without asthma (OR, 1.46; 95% CI: 1.01-2.37) only among boys. In boys, the adjusted ORs for increased risk of asthma symptom and current asthma for household exposures (> or =10 cigarettes smoked per day vs. none smoked) during workday were 2.04 (95% CI: 1.01-3.89) and 2.76 (95% CI: 1.06-9.58), respectively. We conclude that ETS exposure increases the occurrence of respiratory symptoms and diseases during childhood. Boys may be more susceptible to ETS than girls.
Practical implications: Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a highly prevalent respiratory irritant. In agreement with previous cross-sectional studies, our study indicates that exposure to ETS may increase the occurrence of respiratory symptoms and diseases in children, and the association of ETS exposure and respiratory health of children increased in strength with number of cigarettes smoked inside the house per day during workday and day-off. Boys may be more susceptible to ETS than girls. These findings support the view that measures should be taken to reduce ETS exposure for children.