Effects of environmental tobacco smoke or secondhand tobacco smoke on children

Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

"Content Source: American Academy of Pediatrics."

May-31st is ‘World No-Tobacco Day’, on this occasion it may be prudent to try to make parents understand the ill effects of environmental or second hand tobacco smoke on children.

Many people think tobacco-related health problems affect only adults after a lifetime of smoking or tobacco use. Yet, children and teens suffer from tobacco-related health problems as well. The fact is tobacco use can affect every member of the family.

Luckily smoking and the consumption of Tobacco is going down in the young population in India, particularly those among the higher socio-economic strata, but we need to spread more awareness among parents about the dangers of smoking to their children.

How does secondhand smoke harm my child?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke a smoker breathes out and that comes from the tip of burning cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. It contains about 4,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are dangerous; more than 50 are known to cause cancer. Anytime children breathe in secondhand smoke they are exposed to these chemicals.

Dangers start during pregnancy

If you smoke or you take in secondhand smoke when you're pregnant (luckily not many woman in India do this), your baby is exposed to harmful chemicals, too. Smoking or being exposed to second hand smoke when you're pregnant may lead to many serious health problems for your baby, including

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Lower birth weight than expected (possibly meaning a less healthy baby)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Learning problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The health risks go up the longer a pregnant woman smokes and the more she smokes. Quitting anytime during pregnancy helps—of course, the sooner the better. All pregnant women should stay away from secondhand smoke and ask smokers not to smoke around them.

Dangers to young children

Infants have a higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)if they are exposed to secondhand smoke. Children, especially those younger than 2 years, have a higher risk of serious health problems, or problems may become worse. Children who breathe secondhand smoke can have more

  • Ear infections
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Respiratory problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Tooth decay

Children of smokers cough and wheeze more and have a harder time getting over colds. Secondhand smoke can cause other symptoms including stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, eye irritation, and hoarseness.

Children with asthma are especially sensitive to secondhand smoke. It may cause more asthma attacks and the attacks may be more severe, requiring trips to the hospital.

Dangers to older children

Children who grow up with parents who smoke are themselves more likely to smoke. Children and teens who smoke are affected by the same health problems that affect adults. Secondhand smoke may cause problems for children later in life including

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Cataracts
A critical choice

If you smoke, one of the most important things you can do for your own health and the health of your children is to stop smoking. Quitting is the best way to prevent your children from being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Parents need to make every effort to keep their children away from smokers and secondhand smoke. Parents who smoke should quit for their own health and the health of their children.