A recent line of studies has brought attention to the question whether repeated exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is capable of producing psycho-physiological effects in non-smokers and whether symptoms of nicotine dependence can develop in the absence of active smoking. Children seem to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of ETS. We examined the occurrence of psycho-behavioural symptoms, designed to assess nicotine addiction and nicotine withdrawal, in a sample of 778 never-smoking children aged 9-12 years using cross-sectional survey data collected in 15 Dutch primary schools. In the present study, 6% of never-smoking children reported symptoms of craving, 8% reported cue-triggered wanting to smoke, and 20% reported subjective symptoms in response to ETS exposure. In never-smoking children, a higher number of smokers in the child's social environment was associated with more symptoms of cue-triggered wanting to smoke and more subjective symptoms in response to ETS. Never-smoking children and children who had initiated smoking were equally likely to report subjective symptoms in response to ETS exposure. In conclusion, environmental smoking is associated with self-reported psycho-behavioural symptoms in never-smoking children. Future research needs to investigate whether symptoms in children exposed to ETS are physiologically based or whether they reflect other characteristics which predispose youth for smoking initiation in the future.
Keywords: Smoking; adolescents; children; environmental tobacco smoke; nicotine dependence.