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Anti-Tobacco Campaign May Have Missed MarkOn Cigar Smoking

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While Massachusetts makes progress in dousing students' impulses to smoke cigarettes through a statewide anti-tobacco campaign, state health leaders may have overlooked another threat to young people's health--cigar smoking.

The Massachusetts health department has found that a significant number of children in the state smoke cigars, according to a study published in the May 23 issue of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The state's figures mirror new national statistics on the prevalence of cigar smoking among young people, which were published in a companion study in the MMWR. The national survey, conducted by the CDC, found that 27 percent of 14- to 19- year-olds reported smoking at least one cigar within the past year.

In the 1996 Massachusetts survey, researchers found that nearly three out of 10 high school students reported having puffed on a cigar in the preceding year. And one in 10 junior high school students in the survey reported smoking a cigar in the same period. This was the first study Massachusetts had conducted on cigar smoking among young people.

The numbers have unnerved state health officials, who had launched a tobacco-control program that drove down cigarette smoking among 6th, 7th, and 8th graders by 10 percent between 1993 and last year.

"We knocked out smokeless-tobacco rates in the last few years, and when we squeezed the Hydra, its head popped up someplace else," said Gregory Connolly, the director of the state's anti-tobacco program. "What we need is a comprehensive campaign."

Federal health studies have shown that cigar smoking, similar to cigarette smoking, can cause serious health problems.

Inner-city children who are allergic to cockroaches and exposed to them at home can have serious and sometimes fatal reactions, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, confirms for the first time a long-held theory that exposure to the pests are a significant source of the high rates of asthma among urban youths.

Researchers for the yearlong study followed 1,500 children between the ages of 4 and 11 in seven cities to determine whether exposure to dust mites, cats, or cockroaches triggered serious asthma attacks. Asthma is the leading chronic health condition among children nationwide and the primary cause of school absences, public-health reports show.

During asthma attacks, bronchial tubes become inflamed, and air passages are clogged. If not treated, the condition can be fatal.

The children in the study, which appeared in the May 8 issue of the journal, were divided into four groups: Children who were allergic to cockroaches and not exposed to them; children who were allergic and exposed; children who were not allergic, but were exposed; and a group that was neither allergic nor exposed. The team followed the children for a year to gauge how often each group missed school, awoke with an asthma attack, or visited the emergency room.

The hospitalization rate was three times higher for children who were allergic and exposed to cockroaches than for children who did not come into contact with the insect. Children who were allergic to cockroaches and exposed to them also missed school significantly more often than those who were exposed to cat hair, dust mites, or were not exposed to cockroaches at all, the study also found.

Day-care centers can be excellent breeding grounds for germs, according to a study by a Norfolk, Va., researcher.

For a study released last month, Dr. Xi Jiang spread a solution made from the DNA of a benign vegetable virus onto toy balls in three classrooms in a Norfolk day-care center. Dr. Jiang followed 50 children, ranging in age from 4 months to 3 years, for a month to discover the route and the rate that the germs traveled.

"The DNA marker spread very quickly, contaminating their hands within two or three hours," said Dr. Jiang, an assistant professor of virology at the Center for Pediatric Research, which is affiliated with the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk.

Dr. Jiang said his study underscores the rapidity with which infectious pathogens can be spread in day-care settings. He urged child-care workers to wash toys and common surfaces to help prevent the spread of disease.--JESSICA PORTNER

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