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A new study adds to evidence about the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke on children’s health. The study suggests exposure to cigarette smoke increases babies’ risk of developing asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, exposed smooth muscle cells from the airways of deceased human fetuses to various levels of cigarette smoke, HealthDay reports. The cells exposed to the smoke showed changes similar to the effects of inflammation seen in asthma, which narrow airways and make it more difficult to breathe. Higher levels of cigarette smoke caused cell death.

These effects are especially dangerous for premature infants, the researchers note. “Due to their highly immature lungs, premature babies often require high levels of additional oxygen in the neonatal intensive care unit, which can put these babies at higher risk for lifelong problems with lung diseases,” study author Dr. Elizabeth Vogel said in a news release.

The study was presented this week at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting.

A study presented at a medical meeting earlier this year found children with asthma who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to have three or more visits to a physician or emergency room because of wheezing in the past year. Exposure to secondhand smoke in children with asthma was also associated with having sleep disturbed by wheezing one or more nights a week, and activity limitations due to wheezing.

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