Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

September 26, 1996, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section B; Page 10; Column 1; National Desk

LENGTH: 628 words

HEADLINE: Study Finds Stunted Lungs in Young Smokers


Parents who cautioned in years past that smoking would stunt a child's growth were right, at least in one respect. A new study has shown that lung development is impaired in teen-agers who smoke as few as five cigarettes a day.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found in the 15-year study, of more than 10,000 youths, that the more cigarettes they smoked, and the longer they smoked, the greater the damage to lung growth and breathing capacity. While both boys and girls suffered lung damage from smoking, girls were even more severely affected than boys by comparable amounts of cigarette smoking, the researchers found.

The researchers said their findings were especially worrisome because contrary to past experience, in which boys were much more likely to smoke than girls, teen-age girls are now taking up smoking at a faster rate than boys. Nineteen percent of girls now smoke in adolescence, as against 17 percent of boys. Furthermore, girls now smoke as many cigarettes and are as likely to inhale as boys.

Every day, more than 3,000 adolescents in the United States begin to smoke. These latest findings on the effects, by Dr. Diane R. Gold and her collaborators, are being reported today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

One cause for concern about teen-age smoking is that the better the lung function in early adulthood, the healthier a person is likely to be as an adult. "Teens who do not take up smoking, " Dr. Gold said, "are likely to have better respiratory health both in adolescence and later on in life."

A previous study among the same group of children had revealed high rates of respiratory illness in those who smoked or who were exposed to smoke because one or both of their parents did so. In the current study, the researchers reported, 25 percent of nonsmoking teens had episodes of wheezing, as against 56 percent of girls who smoked 5 to 14 cigarettes a day and 47 percent of boys who smoked that amount.

The study involved 5,158 boys and 4,902 girls in six American areas where environmental air pollution was a particular concern: Watertown, Mass.; Kingston and Harriman, Tenn.; Steubenville and Mingo Junction, Ohio; St. Louis; Portage, Wis., and Topeka, Kan. In analyzing the effects of cigarette smoking, the researchers took the degree of air pollution into account, said Dr. Frank E. Speizer, a respiratory specialist on the research team.

The children, who were 10 to 18 years old, were examined annually from 1974 to 1989. Various measurements of their lung function were taken:

*Forced vital capacity showed how much air they could get out after taking a deep breath and blowing out as hard and as fast as they could. The more air expired, the larger the lung capacity is likely to be.

*Forced expiratory volume, which measured the amount of air expired in one second after taking a deep breath and breathing out as hard and fast as possible, provided an indication of the degree of airway obstruction.

*Forced expiratory flow measured how fast the air got out, reflecting obstruction in the small airways, where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood and the lungs takes place.

On all such measures, children who smoked fared less well than those who had never smoked. And the degree of impairment was directly related to the amount they smoked and how long they had been smoking.

Among girls who had completed their growth in height, lung function started to decline in smokers even before they left their teen-age years. On the basis of this and other measurements, the researchers concluded that "adolescent girls may be more vulnerable than boys to the effects of smoking on the growth of lung function."