It's important to warn children about the dangers of drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but what parents really need to worry about, researchers say, is their kids “huffing” common household products such as shoe polish, glue and air fresheners.

In fact, more 12 year olds have used potentially lethal inhalants to get high than marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined, according to data released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in conjunction with the 18th annual National Inhalants & Poisons Awareness Week.

“We continue to face the challenge of increasing experimentation and intentional misuse of common household products among the youngest and most vulnerable segments of our population – 12 year olds,” Harvey Weiss, executive director of The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, said in a news release.

The frightening thing about “huffing” is that most parents are not aware that the use of inhalants can cause “sudden sniffing death,” which is immediate death due to cardiac arrest. Kevin Talley, the father of Amber Ann Suri, learned that lesson much too late: Amber died in February 2009 after huffing. Although she was taken to a doctor, she was only treated for sinus problems and died a short time later.

“As a physician, I cannot stress enough the importance of educating adolescents about the dangers of the inhalation of volatile substances,” said Dr. Jennifer N. Caudle, an osteopathic family physician and director of the family medicine section of the Department of Internal Medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. “Young people do not always realize the consequences of their actions. It is possible to die from trying inhalants even once. ‘Sudden sniffing death’ causes the heart to beat rapidly, which can result in cardiac arrest.”

SAMHSA data from the 2006-2008 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health show a rate of lifetime inhalant use among 12 year olds of 6.9 percent, compared to a rate of 5.1 percent for nonmedical use of prescription type drugs; a rate of 1.4 percent for marijuana; a rate of 0.7 percent for use of hallucinogens; and a 0.1 rate for cocaine use.

Click here for more data from the SAMHSA.

Click here for more information from the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition.