Because tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, we as physicians consistently counsel our patients that quitting smoking is critical to avoiding disease and likely the single most important choice they can make to improve their health. But quitting smoking is also important because of the impact that secondhand smoke has on your children.
According to the American Heart Association, 24 million children and youth are exposed to secondhand smoke in the U.S. because of parents who smoke. That equates to 4 in 10 – almost half– of all school-aged children, and 1 in 3 adolescents. The dangerous impact of secondhand smoke on children whose cardiovascular systems are still developing has been well-documented in studies for several decades.
It increases ear infections, respiratory infections and asthma attacks, causes lung cancer, raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ages and clogs arteries, diminishes blood vessel function, leads to heart disease and causes irreversible damage to the entire cardiovascular system. Secondhand smoke also increases tooth decay and causes irritation in the nose and eyes, and long term, children can suffer poor lung development as a result of secondhand smoke. Finally, children whose parents smoke are 3 times more likely to become smokers themselves than children of non-smokers.
What Is Secondhand Smoke?
Secondhand smoke – also known as environmental tobacco smoke – is the smoke that is breathed out by a smoker as well as the smoke that comes from the tips of burning cigarettes, cigars and pipes. This smoke contains approximately 4,000 chemicals that are destructive and potentially deadly and at least 50 of them are proven to cause cancer. Anytime a child breathes this smoke in, they are exposed to the chemicals and placed at enormous risk.
Children whose parents smoke only outside are still exposed. Extensive studies performed by the American Academy of Pediatrics have shown that smoke and the harmful toxins in it remain for longer periods in places where smoking has occurred even briefly including walls, draperies, upholstery, car seats and a smoker’s hair. And though parents may smoke outside and reduce danger to some degree, children can be exposed to secondhand smoke at a friend or relative’s home, in a restaurant, at the mall or at sporting events.
Creating a Smoke-Free Environment
Quitting smoking is difficult, but the impact of secondhand smoke on your children or grandchildren should certainly be additional incentive to make every attempt to give up tobacco. As you or others in your family begin the process, use these strategies to keep your children from being exposed:
Make your home smoke free. Until you can quit, make sure you do not smoke inside your home. And do not smoke near your children when outside. Remember, air flows throughout a home, so smoking in even one designated room does not prevent the risks that come from secondhand smoke.
Make your car smoke free. Do not smoke inside your car. Opening the windows is simply not enough to keep smoke away from the other occupants.
Remove children from places where smoking is allowed. Even if no one is actively smoking in a location, if it is a place that allows smoking, the toxins and chemicals are present and can still do harm.
Choose a babysitter who doesn’t smoke. Even if the babysitter smokes outside, your children are exposed and in danger. If those who watch over your children smoke, consider changing babysitters in order to maintain a smoke-free environment for your children.
Encourage tobacco-free child care and schools. Work to make your child-care facilities or schools completely tobacco free, including outdoor areas and teachers’ lounges.
The dangers of smoking are severe for a smoker. But they are also severe for children who are exposed to secondhand smoke as a result. While it may be difficult to quit, it is imperative that you speak to your physicians about a strategy to make the choice to quit and be successful at doing so.
To learn more about the impact of secondhand smoke on your children, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.