NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Secondhand Smoke Affects Fetuses

February 11, 2004

Secondhand smoke and urban air pollution can affect the growth of fetuses, according to a study by the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health.

The researchers conducted the study on 214 infants of nonsmoking African-American and Dominican women in Washington Heights, Central Harlem and the South Bronx, the communities the center serves. They found:

  • Babies exposed in the womb to both secondhand smoke and high levels of urban air pollutants had a 7 percent reduction in birth weight -- on average they were a half pound lighter.
  • These babies also incurred a 3 percent reduction in head circumference, which was almost half an inch smaller when compared with babies exposed only to low levels of urban air pollution in utero.

The findings are noteworthy because pollutants affect the human body simultaneously, rather than separately, as they are frequently studied, the researchers say.

Source: Melissa McNamara, "Double Dose of Bad Air Puts Fetuses at Risk," New York Times, January 27, 2004; based upon Frederica P. Perera et al., "Molecular Evidence of an Interaction Between Prenatal Environmental Exposures on Birth Outcomes in a Multiethnic Population," Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, Columbia University, January 22, 2004.


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