03/15/2012 01:59 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Lung disease linked to kids' 2nd-hand smoke exposure

Children exposed to tobacco smoke may be at significantly increased risk of developing chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder (COPD) in adulthood, new research suggests.

A study of 433 patients with COPD found that children who had been exposed to tobacco smoke had nearly double the risk of developing the disease in adulthood than those not exposed.

COPD is a progressive disease that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms. It is caused by smoking, exposure to smoke, dust, chemicals and air pollution.

The study, published in the journal Respirology, was conducted by researchers in Norway between 2006 and 2009. It found that women were more at risk of developing COPD — a 1.9-fold greater risk — than women who hadn’t been exposed to passive smoke. Men exposed to tobacco smoke had a 1.5 to 1.7-fold greater risk.

"Reduction of childhood environmental tobacco smoke exposure could contribute to the prevention of COPD respiratory symptoms," reads the study.

Chronic lung diseases a costly burden

The study’s publication coincides with a new report from the Conference Board of Canada that predicts the economic burden of three chronic lung diseases will be $24.1 billion in the year 2030. The three diseases are lung cancer, asthma and COPD.

The report suggests that new strategies to reduce risk factors could reduce this amount by an estimated $1.5 billion. It points to strategies in the National Lung Health Framework, such as reducing smoking rates and second-hand smoke exposure, as well as reducing radon exposure and exposure to carcinogens in high-risk professions.

In 2010, the burden of these diseases was estimated at $12 billion, which includes costs for drugs and doctors, as well as indirect costs such as disability and premature death.

Projections in the report suggest that the number of people with lung cancer will rise from just over 42,000 in 2010 to just under 65,000 by 2030. The number of patients with COPD is expected to rise from just over 1.65 million to more than 2.5 million in the same period. Asthma cases would rise from just under 3.2 million cases to 3.9 million, the projections state.

The conference board report was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.