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Children today are exposed to significantly less secondhand smoke than they were a decade ago—unless they have asthma, according to a new government report.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found children with asthma who come from poor families are especially likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke, NBC News reports.

“What surprised us was that among kids with asthma, secondhand exposure to smoke did not decrease at all,” said lead author Dr. Kenneth B. Quinto. “I think we could be doing a better job educating parents with children with asthma about the health effects of secondhand exposure.”

The findings come from a national survey of health information about 12,000 children ages 3 to 19. The researchers also collected blood samples, and tested them for cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine exposure. In 1999, the study found 57 percent of children without asthma were exposed to secondhand smoke; that percentage dropped to 44 percent in 2010. Among children with asthma, secondhand smoke exposure rates fell only slightly during that period, from 58 percent to 54 percent.

Income appeared to play a major role, the article notes. Between 2007 and 2010, almost 68 percent of children with asthma whose families had incomes below 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines were exposed to secondhand smoke, compared with about 59 percent of children without asthma.

In families with incomes between 185 and 350 percent of the poverty line, 60 percent of children with asthma were exposed to secondhand smoke, compared with 46 percent of children without asthma. Among children whose families had incomes above 350 percent of the poverty lines, there was little difference in secondhand smoke exposure between children with asthma (23 percent) and children without asthma (25 percent).

Quinto noted parents’ education level may account for much of the findings. He said the more educated parents are, the more they are likely to understand how smoking affects asthma.

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