Parents have recently been out of breath with questions regarding the effect of secondhand smoke on their infants and children. So let me cough up some information on this important topic.

Secondhand smoke: what is it?

Secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke, refers to smoke from a burning tobacco product as well as what smokers exhale. Sixty percent of 3-to-11-year-olds are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Why is secondhand smoke a problem?

This smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals. More than 50 of these 4000 chemicals are cancer-causing agents for both adult and childhood cancers. Even after someone who has been smoking leaves the room, the smoke remains and settles on surfaces. E-cigarettes are also part of the secondhand smoke problem, since their vapor may also contain some of these chemicals.

Cancer is not the only potential problem for children exposed to secondhand smoke. The chemicals in secondhand smoke can inflame and injure young lungs. This results in 25,000 new cases of asthma each year in the US – and 150,000-to-300,000 new cases of pneumonia. (Many of these ill children require hospitalization.) Exposure to secondhand smoke can even increase the frequency of colds, coughs, sleep disorders, or ear infections.

Exposure to secondhand smoke puts pregnant mothers and children at higher risk of complications during and after birth. Mothers can miscarry or give birth prematurely. Children are at higher risk of sudden unexpected infant death syndrome, learning problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Reduce the chance of exposing yourself or your child to secondhand smoke

If you smoke, do whatever you can to not smoke or vape in your home. If you must smoke, limit yourself to rooms with windows. Consider using a fan to move the smoke outside.

Vermont state law forbids you to smoke with children 7 or younger in the car. But it’s worth not smoking in your car at all. The chemicals from smoke stay in the air and in your car even after you are done smoking.

If you or a friend wants to stop smoking, call the Vermont or New York Quit Lines at 1-800 QUITNOW. Vermonter can also visit 802quits.org. You can also call the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

Hopefully tips like these, and we’re not talking filter tips, can help. With them, you should be able to smoke out the importance of protecting your child from secondhand smoke.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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