Airborne nicotine, secondhand smoke, and precursors to adolescent smoking

Jennifer J. McGrath, Simon Racicot, Chizimuzo T.C. Okoli, S. Katharine Hammond, Jennifer O'Loughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Secondhand smoke (SHS) directly increases exposure to airborne nicotine, tobacco's main psychoactive substance. When exposed to SHS, nonsmokers inhale 60% to 80% of airborne nicotine, absorb concentrations similar to those absorbed by smokers, and display high levels of nicotine biomarkers. Social modeling, or observing other smokers, is a well-established predictor of smoking during adolescence. Observing smokers also leads to increased pharmacological exposure to airborne nicotine via SHS. The objective of this study is to investigate whether greater exposure to airborne nicotine via SHS increases the risk for smoking initiation precursors among never-smoking adolescents. Methods: Secondary students (N = 406; never-smokers: n = 338, 53% girls, mean age = 12.9, SD = 0.4) participated in the AdoQuest II longitudinal cohort. They answered questionnaires about social exposure to smoking (parents, siblings, peers) and known smoking precursors (eg, expected benefits and/or costs, SHS aversion, smoking susceptibility, and nicotine dependence symptoms). Saliva and hair samples were collected to derive biomarkers of cotinine and nicotine. Adolescents wore a passive monitor for 1 week to measure airborne nicotine. Results: Higher airborne nicotine was significantly associated with greater expected benefits (R 2 = 0.024) and lower expected costs (R 2 = 0.014). Higher social exposure was significantly associated with more temptation to try smoking (R 2 = 0.025), lower aversion to SHS (R 2 = 0.038), and greater smoking susceptibility (R 2 = 0.071). Greater social exposure was significantly associated with more nicotine dependence symptoms; this relation worsened with higher nicotine exposure (cotinine R 2 = 0.096; airborne nicotine R 2 = 0.088). Conclusions: Airborne nicotine exposure via SHS is a plausible risk factor for smoking initiation during adolescence. Public health implications include limiting airborne nicotine through smoking bans in homes and cars, in addition to stringent restrictions for e-cigarettes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S63-S74
StatePublished - Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: AdoQuest II was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (operating grant MOP97879).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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