Kids’ exposure to secondhand smoke may lower school performance



Previous research has shown that children growing up in lower-income and non-Hispanic Black households are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke compared with wealthier families and non-Hispanic white households. In addition, many studies have documented the negative health consequences of secondhand smoke exposure, which may result in school absenteeism among school-age children and therefore affect their academic performance. However, it is not well understood if continued exposure to secondhand smoke leads to longer-lasting academic difficulties.


A team of researchers led by IRP senior investigator Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., analyzed data on a nationally representative sample of kids between the ages of 12 and 16 who did not use any commercial tobacco products, specifically looking at secondhand smoke exposure and academic performance during two consecutive years. They found that those who had experienced lengthier exposures to secondhand smoke in the first year examined were more likely to demonstrate lower academic performance in the second year, even after accounting for demographics, previous academic performance, mental health, and behavioral and substance use problems.


This research, which is the first national study of its kind, shows that secondhand smoke exposure may lower the academic performance of school-age children, which may in turn reduce opportunities for achieving higher educational attainment. Given secondhand smoke exposure is more prevalent among non-Hispanic Black and lower-income children, it may perpetuate the racial and socioeconomic gaps in student achievement and educational mobility. Consequently, this research further supports the importance of eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke, especially among populations affected by health disparities and structural inequities.


Choi K, Chen-Sankey JC, Merianos AL, McGruder C, Yerger V. (2020). Secondhand smoke exposure and subsequent academic performance among U.S. youth. Am J Prev Med. Jun;58(6):776-782. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2019.12.020.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023