(NewsMaxHealth) Exposure to second-hand smoke in childhood causes irreversible damage to children’s arteries – increasing their risk of heart attacks or strokes when they grow up, according to a large international study published on Wednesday.

The research, which lends weight to campaigns for smoking to be banned in private cars and homes, found passive smoking leads to a thickening of children’s artery walls, adding some 3.3 years to the age of blood vessels by adulthood.

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“Exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries,” said Seana Gall, a researcher in cardiovascular epidemiology who led the study at the University of Tasmania.

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She said parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking – both to aid their own health and protect the future health of their children.

Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, and is the world’s biggest cause of premature death from chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

On top of the 6 million people a year killed by their own smoking, the World Health Organization (WHO) says another 600,000 die a year as a result of exposure to other peoples’ smoke – so-called second-hand or passive smoking.

Of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer, the WHO says – and creating 100 percent smoke-free environments is the only way to protect people fully.

About 40 percent of all children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home, and almost a third of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke are in children.

ARTERY WALLS

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