The Dangers of Tobacco Use: Daycare Staff and SIDS Risk

Removing cigarette smoke from a home can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 80%. Infants and children can remain safe from tobacco smoke while in daycare by ensuring that all workers refrain from using tobacco products, including vapes.

Newborn baby boy covered in vertix inside incubator

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, more commonly referred to as SIDS, is the leading cause of death among children ages one month to one year. While most envision this nightmare happening at home, many parents hear of their child’s passing while at work, their babies having passed while at daycare or another childcare facility.

While SIDS is no one’s fault, there may be ways to help keep babies safer while at daycare.

What is SIDS?

SIDS describes an event in which an infant under the age of one year dies unexpectedly and for seemingly no reason. An autopsy is performed and all known causes of death are ruled out. The deaths usually occur while the baby is sleeping. There are no warning signs and no symptoms.

Despite the name, SIDS is, in fact, not a syndrome at all, but the absence of one. When no explanation is found, those deaths are lumped together as “SIDS.”

While the cause of SIDS is not known, the most promising theory at the time of this writing is that babies who die of SIDS have immature brain stems in the area where serotonin is produced. Many have heard of serotonin in relation to mood, but it is also the neurotransmitter responsible for helping humans wake and breathe, according to SIDS America.

A normal person may have blood oxygen fluctuations throughout the night as they sleep. When this happens, the brain sends a surge of serotonin to wake that person up just enough so that they turn their head, take a deep breath of oxygen rich air, and then drift back off to sleep. Most people do this several times every night without even realizing it.

It is believed that in SIDS cases, this mechanism malfunctions. When blood oxygen levels get too low, their brains cannot produce or send the serotonin needed to wake them up. In severe cases of this, SIDS is the result.

Serotonin also helps regulate other aspects of heart rate and breathing.

Can SIDS be prevented?

Because the cause of sudden infant death is unknown, there is no known prevention. There are certain groups who seem to be at a marked increased risk, however. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke in particular are much more likely to succumb to SIDS. In fact, it is estimated that removing cigarette smoke from a home can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 80%, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Additional risk factors may include becoming overheated, lack of air circulation in the room where baby is sleeping, and lack of breast feeding.

How Childcare Workers May be Putting Children at Risk

Most childcare workers love children and would never willingly put a child at risk. For this reason, daycares and other childcare facilities have strict policies on smoking inside the buildings. Parents don’t have to worry about smokers lighting up in the same room where their children sleep and play, but there is another danger that is poorly understood by most parents and caregivers: third-hand smoke.

Third-hand smoke is comprised of the smoke, nicotine, and tobacco residue left behind after someone smokes. Most people know that the smell of tobacco lingers long after the cigarette is snuffed out, but there is more than odor left behind. According to WebMD, thousands of toxic chemicals are contained in third-hand smoke, and the risks they post to human health are becoming more apparent.


While daycare workers are not allowed to smoke in or too close to buildings where children are kept, smoke residue can cling to their clothing and hair. As the person moves around the room, this residue can be emitted back into the air over and over again. While this may seem like a small amount of smoke, the Surgeon General warns that there is no level of cigarette smoke that is considered safe, unlike with vape juices and e-liquids with no-nicotine, especially for infants whose lungs are more fragile than an adult’s. If the same worker, or if multiple workers, take more than one smoke break, the process repeats itself over and over again. This can decrease a room’s air quality over time.

As more third-hand smoke enters the room, there is less fresh air available to the children inhabiting the space. Less fresh air means less available oxygen. In those infants who may already be vulnerable to SIDS, this increase in smoke residue, however minor, could prove detrimental.

Even for those babies who are not at risk, exposure to third-hand smoke may increase their risk of asthma, allergies, and other health complications.

Safe Sleep Practices

While the Healthy Child Care America ‘Back-to-Sleep’ campaign has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, it’s not enough to prevent SIDS alone. Keeping babies safe not only requires proper sleep positioning and temperature, but also air that is as safe as possible. A well-ventilated space is a start. This can be accomplished through the use of fans or HVAC systems. Avoiding the dangers of smoke residue is also an important step childcare workers can take to keep babies safe while they are in their care.

Health Implications for Older Children

Babies and toddlers are the most at-risk group for the dangers of third-hand smoke, but older children can also suffer complications. Studies are showing that smoke residue is more harmful than previously thought. The chemicals contained within third-hand smoke are known to increase the risk of asthma and other breathing problems, as well as certain types of cancer.

The full scope of how dangerous third-hand smoke might be isn’t understood just yet, but the current information available makes it clear that it’s not worth the risk to children of any age.

What can be Done?

The only way to ensure all infants and children are safe from tobacco smoke while in a daycare facility is to ensure that all workers refrain from the use of tobacco products. There is no efficient and effective means of removing all third-hand smoke from clothes and hair after smoke breaks, so quitting is the best option for current daycare workers who smoke. This will not only improve the health outcomes of children, but of the workers themselves.

While quitting may seem like a challenge, there are many effective ways to give up the habit.
Published: January 28, 2015 Updated: February 28, 2019



Leave a comment

13 comments on “The Dangers of Tobacco Use: Daycare Staff and SIDS Risk

  • CaringForKiddos

    July 29, 2018 at 5:52 am

    First, second, and third-hand smoke is so horrible for the kiddos systems (not to mention the adults). It is 100% linked to SIDS SUIDS deaths. Please educate yourselves. It could save a life.

  • Grand Father

    July 16, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Raising babies in bubbles with purified air now are we? Tell the world to stop spinning because it is polluting. Oh and what about NORM (Normal Occurring Radioactive Material)? Shame on you Mother Earth.

  • Jimmy

    May 14, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    What about smoke that isn’t from cigarettes? Brush fires, bar bq, chimney etc?

  • Joan

    November 23, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    This article acts as though ‘third hand smoke’ has something to do with air quality. If you actually look in to any of the studies on it ‘third hand smoke’ refers to the residue of chemicals left on surfaces of a smokers home/car/ etc. Nothing at all to do with air quality.

    The risk that is supposed to be present to children is due to them putting things in their mouth that may have this residue on it. However, studies so far are only saying these chemicals are present. Not how much is present, not how much would need to be ingested to cause harm and, not what the harm may be.

    Yes, quitting smoking is the best idea however, please don’t join in scaremongering.

  • Sandy

    September 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I don’t really believe that the smell of cigerattes on clothes can do harm to kids , but I won’t smoke at my son’s house just so I can see my grandkids

    • Amy

      December 7, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      You should do more research about how that was concluded

    • Tami

      December 28, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      It seems like science is not with you on this. There is a growing body of evidence that third-hand smoke IS dangerous to kids (it’s not just the smell–that smell is evidence of toxins). Change your clothes before handling kids if you are a smoker or at least wear a clean shirt that you haven’t smoked in. Or don’t handle them–those are the fair options.

    • J

      December 29, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      You don’t ‘believe’? What are your facts and findings? I think an article completed by health professionals etc are a lot more substantial than your beliefs or opinions..
      it’s not merely cigerette smell on your clothes it’s the fumes and chemicals. So think about that when you are exposing your dangerous habit upon your grandchildren or other family members

  • Edward Rutledge

    April 10, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    my family won’t quit smoking and I don’t want them to expose my newborn baby to cigarette toxins. is it wrong for me to tell them if they don’t quit they can’t see her… I don’t think it’s fair for my baby to be exposed to the toxins.

    • Luke

      April 16, 2017 at 5:28 am

      I have a similar problem with parents who will just not quit, or are struggling. We are expecting our first child in 3 months, and while I know that quitting can be tough, and as a family member you can sympathize with that, your kid comes first. I have told them time and time again that if they are still smoking, I will not allow them to hold the baby, and we will not be visiting their home. It’s not to be rude, and I would much rather they quit, but absent that your first obligation is to your child, not their feelings.

    • Laur

      December 29, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      It is your right to protect your child no matter who’s feelings it hurts. Your child is the priority. Never second guess yourself when it comes to doing what is best for your baby. Be strong.

  • Vinnie Valle

    February 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    You can paint a permeant air purification system on-to the walls of your home or office, by mixing the ionic paint additive by Air-ReNu with paint and applying the blended mixture to the walls of your home or office. One application eliminates offensive smoking odors, pet dander, toxins, and will continue to remain effective for 8 to 12 years.

    • Yavi

      October 6, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Any idea how I can get this done in my home. My husband smokes only in the toilet but the smell still lingers on throughout the house. I’d like to have this done to the bathroom walls and passage walls in my home.

      Thank you.