Tobacco Smoke and Asthma

The evidence is clear: asthma and tobacco smoke don’t mix.

Asthma is a serious illness. Over the last decade, St. Louis children made over ten thousand trips to emergency rooms because of asthma. During those same years, asthma led to the deaths of 15 children under age 15. No amount of secondhand smoke is safe for little lungs. Here’s why:

  • In young kids who did not have asthma before, exposure to secondhand smoke has been shown to cause asthma.
  • In kids who already have asthma, breathing in secondhand smoke can trigger severe asthma attacks and generally make asthma symptoms worse.

Do HEPA Air Cleaners Help?

HEPA (high-efficiency, particulate arresting) filters are among the best air cleaners available to use in the home. Do HEPA air cleaners help protect kids with asthma from secondhand smoke? A recent study published in the academic journal Pediatrics tried to find out. This study compared 225 children with asthma age 6-12. About half of them had HEPA two air cleaners placed in their homes, the others did not. The researchers measured several different factors to help them determine whether the HEPA air cleaners made a difference in:

  • Asthma symptoms
  • How many unplanned visits children had to make to the doctor’s office or emergency room because of their asthma
  • The amount of tobacco smoke chemicals in the air in each child’s home
  • The amount of tobacco smoke chemicals in the children’s blood and hair samples

What the study found:

The children who had HEPA air cleaners placed in their homes made slightly fewer unplanned visits to the doctor’s office or emergency room because of asthma. However, the HEPA air cleaners did not make their asthma symptoms any better and didn’t reduce the amount of tobacco smoke chemicals in their bodies.

The bottom line:

HEPA air cleaners may help protect children from some of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, but not enough to make a big difference in asthma symptoms. Quitting smoking or making a 100% smoke free home policy are still the best ways to protect a child with asthma from secondhand smoke.

To read the full article, click on the link below:

Lanphear, B.P., Hornung, R.W., Khoury, J., Yolton, K., Lierl, M., & Kalkbrenner, A. (2011).
Effects of HEPA air cleaners on unscheduled asthma visits and asthma symptoms
for children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke. Pediatrics, 127, 93-101.

The online version of this article, along with updated information and services, can be found here:

To learn more about asthma in St. Louis: