Nothing is too difficult or objectionable ... not even rummaging through shit. And not just any old shit either, we're talking meconium here.
Meconium, the dark and tarry stools passed by a baby during the first few days after birth, can be used to determine how much the mother smoked, or if she was exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy.Parents will know all about meconium. The intensely acrid, almost radioactive, ammonia-like greeny-brown stuff which nature injects into babies as its little sadistic test on new mums and dads. If you can withstand that without running the little 'un down to the nearest adoption agency, you possess the requisite mettle to survive the next 18 years of your life feeling like you're forever being run through a crushed-glass encrusted mangle.
Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health measured tobacco smoke metabolites in meconium samples from 337 babies, finding that they correlated well with reported smoke exposure and other markers of tobacco smoke exposure.
For those who have never experienced meconium, it doesn't just emit an odour, it launches a psychotic frenzied assault on your senses. When you breathe in, it instantly flays the membrane from the inside of your nostrils, performs Riverdance on your optic nerve and detonates a landmine on your ear drums, before lobbing rotten prawns into your stomach and drumming on your diaphragm with a wooden club.
Yet the researchers took 337 examples of this stuff for analysis. Not just one nappy load from each kid either, oh no. All of it, according to their report [pdf].
Meconium stools were collected throughout the hospital stay, until the first milk stool appeared. Study staff pooled meconium samples from diapers into polyethylene containers using a spatula.Then they put it all in a fridge to keep its violent properties as fresh as possible, before delving into it with gusto.
And for why? Well, as the authors state, smoke exposure in pregnancy is "under-reported". That is, people have learned that if they deny smoking or being around smokers, doctors leave them alone, and this just won't do for anti-smoking fanatics. Consequently, they need to come up with an irrefutable tell-tale sign of exactly what smoke-related activities have been going on, and by collecting and getting elbow-deep in noxious shit, they think they have found it.
Thanks to this newly-discovered - quite literal - stool pigeon, a rich new seam of potential hectoring is now exploitable.
In the future, if a new mum says they haven't been anywhere near smoke during pregnancy, her doctor may ask her to bring a bag of her kid's shit to prove it.