Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers and colleagues from the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society, Republic of Ireland, have found that a reduction in secondhand smoking in American homes was associated with fewer cases of otitis media, the scientific name for middle ear infection. The study appears on Jan. 26, 2011, as an online first article on the website of the journal Tobacco Control.

“Our study is the first to demonstrate the public health benefits to children of the increase in smoke-free homes across the nation. It also is the first study to quantify over the past 13 years a reversal in what had been a long-term increasing trend in middle ear infections among children,” said lead author Hillel Alpert, research scientist in HSPH’s Department of Society, Human Development, and Health. “If parents avoid smoking at home, they can protect their children from the disease that is the most common cause of visits to physicians and hospitals for medical care,” he said.

Secondhand smoke (smoke from a burning cigarette combined with smoke exhaled by a smoker) has been shown to increase the level of unhealthy particles in the air, including nicotine and other toxins. In 2006 the U.S. Surgeon General stated that enough evidence existed to suggest a link between parents’ smoking and children’s ear infections.

“Smoke-free rules in homes are extremely important to protect children, given the many adverse effects that secondhand tobacco smoke exposure has on child health,” Alpert said.

The study was funded by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.