Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and respiratory health in children

Eur J Pediatr. 2009 Aug;168(8):897-905. doi: 10.1007/s00431-009-0967-3. Epub 2009 Mar 20.


Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a major risk factor for poor lung health in children. Although parental smoking is the commonest source of ETS exposure to children, they are also exposed to ETS in schools, restaurants, public places and public transport vehicles. Apart from containing thousands of chemicals, the particle size in the ETS is much smaller than the main stream smoke, and therefore has a greater penetrability in the airways of children. Exposure to ETS has been shown to be associated with increased prevalence of upper respiratory tract infections, wheeze, asthma and lower respiratory tract infections. Even developing fetuses are exposed to ETS via the umbilical cord blood if the mother is exposed to tobacco smoke. The placenta also does not offer any barrier to the penetration of ETS into the fetus. The immune system in these babies is more deviated toward the allergic and asthmatic inflammatory phenotype and therefore makes them more prone to develop asthma later in life. An increased awareness of the harmful effects of ETS on children's health is warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / genetics
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / etiology
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution