Mahabee Gittens

Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD

Children can acquire significant levels of nicotine on their hands just by touching surfaces contaminated with tobacco smoke residues, even when no one around them is smoking at the time.

The findings were reported in the journal Tobacco Control. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, Division of Emergency Medicine, co-authored the study with researchers at San Diego State University. 

The study involved 25 children and is being followed up with data from more than 700 additional children. 

This is the first study to show tobacco exposure even without active smoking, Mahabee-Gittens says. “These findings emphasize that the only safe way to protect children from smoke exposure is to quit smoking and ban smoking in the home.”

The children, aged 5 on average, also had significant levels of the harmful tobacco metabolite cotinine in their saliva. They were tested with parents’ consent during emergency room visits for illnesses possibly related to second-hand smoke exposure.