What Parents Need To Know About Secondhand Smoke

Esther C. Vanderlick, Chaney, John A., White, Rebecca E.  |  7/12/2005 11:37:47 PM

News You Can Use For July 2005

Do you smoke around your young children? Does your child’s child-care provider smoke in the child-care environment?

If your answer to either of those questions is "yes," LSU AgCenter experts caution there are multiple concerns about children and their exposure to secondhand smoke.

"Researchers from the National Cancer Institute have been able to detect more than 4,000 chemicals from tobacco smoke – of which 60 have been determined to cause cancer," said LSU AgCenter agent Esther Vanderlick, who specializes in early child development.

When someone is smoking, anyone around them is exposed to what is known as secondhand smoke – either from the burning end of the tobacco product or the smoke that is exhaled by the person smoking it.

"Children are passive smokers when they inhale secondhand smoke," Vanderlick points out.

So why is this important for our children’s safety? LSU AgCenter family development specialist Dr. Becky White notes some of the issues.

"At this time, scientists have not determined how much secondhand smoke is safe, if any at all," White explained. "So preventing smoking in an enclosed environment is critical to keep children safe, because it is difficult to measure indoor air quality."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nonsmokers who live with smokers in homes where smoking is allowed are at the greatest risk for suffering the negative effects of secondhand smoke exposure.

Among the risks cited by experts are such things as lowered lung function, particularly in premature infants.

In another example, researchers have yet to determine what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome but they now believe infants are at a higher risk for SIDS if exposed to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke also has been associated with severe lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia in children. Children are at a higher risk of developing asthma too, according to researchers, who say children exposed to secondhand smoke also may suffer from more middle ear infections.

In another potential risk, expectant mothers who smoke or who inhale secondhand smoke might experience a miscarriage or may deliver an infant who is at a higher risk of having lower mental functioning and who may have behavior problems, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals.

"There is no evidence that separating smokers and nonsmokers within the same space eliminates a nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke," Vanderlick said. "If you are trying to avoid smoke, you need to prevent smoking in your home, car and workplace."

Smoking now is allowed in many designated public places – although all airlines, most bus systems and many other forms of public transit prohibit smoking.

"Our mission is to reduce secondhand smoke around young children," said Vanderlick. "We want to encourage people to provide a safer and healthier environment for our children."

White also encourages adults responsible for young children to consider the health risks to children each time they inhale secondhand smoke.

"Adults can make a difference in the quality of life for our small children," she said.

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