Second Hand Smoke and Children – a guide for new parents
Few parents condone smoking when it comes to their children. Most everyone knows that tobacco products cause a multitude of health complications, including heart disease and many types of cancer. Sadly, many parents are not nearly as informed on the dangers their own smoking may pose to their children. Not only are children who have smoking parents more likely to smoke themselves, but second-hand and third-hand smoke present real health dangers to childrenl, even if they never pick up a cigarette.
What is Second-Hand Smoke?
Second-hand smoke refers to the smoke which comes off the end of a lit cigarette and cigar or that which is exhaled by a smoker after taking a drag. Many people falsely assume that this smoke is somehow less dangerous than that which is inhaled directly into the lungs via tobacco products. The truth is, second-hand smoke is almost equally as dangerous as smoking firsthand. It is known to contain up to 7,000 chemicals, with around 70 of them being carcinogens (according to the CDC).
Health Risks of Second-Hand Smoke: What Makes Second-Hand Smoke so Dangerous?
Inhalation of second-hand smoke increases the risk of many of the same illnesses as smoking. Those who live with smokers are at a much higher risk of lung cancer, stroke, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and heart disease compared to those who are not exposed to any tobacco smoke at all. Every year, in the USA alone, 34,000 non smokers die prematurely due to heart diseases and 7,300 from lung cancer caused by second-hand smoke (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Second-hand smoke causes additional risks for children, however, because their lungs are still developing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to second-hand smoke may cause or worsen asthma, respiratory illnesses (underdeveloped lungs), and ear infections. It has also been shown to be especially harmful to infants, as it increases their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
What if a Parent Smokes Outdoors?
Many parents believe that smoking outside of the home or vehicle will fully protect their children from the dangers of second-hand smoke. While this does reduce exposure, it does not remove the risk of illnesses related to tobacco smoke. This is due to third-hand smoke- the residue lingering on clothes and hair, and the chemicals contained within that are re-released into the air when the person moves. Holding an infant after smoking can also lead to smoke inhalation. According to the Surgeon General, there is no safe level of tobacco smoke exposure, especially for children.
What are Other Dangers of Smoking to Children
Aside from the obvious health issues which can arise from second and third-hand smoke, there are other, more lingering, consequences of parents who smoke around children. Those who are raised by smokers are far more likely to smoke themselves when they are older. This can lead to even more lung damage, as well as an increase of the potential for health problems.
What can Parents do to Reduce Risk?
The only totally effective way for parents to reduce their child’s risk of smoke exposure is to quit smoking. While smoking outdoors will cut down on some of the exposure, it’s not enough to guarantee the safety of their child’s lungs and heart. There are various tools available to help parents stop smoking, including nicotine replacement therapies, which do not emit second or third-hand smoke.
Parents and Smoking: The Bottom Line
For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.
Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.
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