Babies-Toddler Vivian | 21 Jan 2010 12:13 pm

Smoking Around Children

Did you know that children exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke are at an increased risk for frequent respiratory infections, ear infections, and asthma? The report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services emphasizes that children are hurt by secondhand smoke. As cigarette smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide, the Surgeon General has concluded that there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure in children. Even brief exposures can be harmful.

The Surgeon General warns about these health effects of inhaling cigarette smoke in children:

Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in cigarette smoke.

Both babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies who are not exposed to it

Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lower birth weight babies, which makes babies weaker and increases their risk for many health problems.

Babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant or who are exposed to cigarette smoke after birth have weaker lungs than other babies, thus have increased risk for many health problems.

Secondhand smoke exposure causes acute lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and young children, as well as increases their risk for ear infections.

Children who have asthma who are exposed to cigarette smoke experience more frequent and severe asthma attacks.

Research shows that nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their heart disease risk by 25-30% and their lung cancer risk by 20-30%. In children, exposure to cigarette smoke contributes to slowed lung growth and thus more frequent respiratory illnesses. Even brief exposure to can be dangerous!

In summary, exposure may have long-term health consequences for children. Therefore, parents and other adults living with children should minimize their exposure. Consider these tips to keep your child’s exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke to minimum:

1. Establish your household as a cigarette smoke-free zone.
2. If you smoke, do so ONLY outside and wear “a smoke coat or shirt” that you take off before coming back inside.
3. Dine with your child only in smoke-free restaurants.
4. Ask friends not to smoke around your child.
5. Talk to your school-aged and adolescent children about cigarette smoke and its health consequences. Be honest, especially if you are a smoker, and talk about it frequently.
6. Try to quit smoking. The first step is to make the decision, the second step is to set the quit date, and the third step is to find people who will support your decision and help you get through it!
7. Be strong: quitting smoking is not easy, but possible!

Dr. Hillary is a pediatric nurse practitioner with a doctoral degree in health promotion and risk reduction. She works as a pediatric clinician and writes for Plugged in Parents. Plugged In Parents provides up-to-date info on pediatric health, safety and nutrition along with movie reviews, recipes, tech-savvy tips, and a parent’s only forum. You can also contact Dr. Hillary for personal questions related to health and nutrition.

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