Compared to years past, today’s pediatricians are more apt to ask parents about their smoking habits. And while some parents might take offense to that, your child’s doctor is only trying to help keep your youngster healthy.
In our modern day, American society has largely accepted that cigarette smoke poses some of the very same dangers to those who are around a smoker as it does to the person who smokes.
Young parents may not yet have developed any health problems, making the hazards of smoking — and secondhand smoke — less obvious to them.
Recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency show that 11 percent of American children six years and younger are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis (four or more times per week).
Exposure to secondhand smoke presents an especially real threat to children because they are still developing physically, and because they have higher breathing rates than adults: whatever contaminants are around them will be ingested that much faster by a young child.
Another point to consider with respect to young children and secondhand smoke is that whereas a teenager or an adult is likely able to walk away from the smoke and even exit the home where the smoke is being generated, a young child has less control of his or her surroundings. After all, just going to another room in the house won’t do: cigarette smoke travels throughout the home!
For children, secondhand smoke exposure results in a higher risk for middle-ear infections, the most common type of ear infection in youngsters. In infants and children under six, regular exposure to secondhand smoke leads to an increased risk for serious lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. And we’ve known for some time that secondhand smoke also increases the likelihood of an infant dying from SIDS, crib death.
Secondhand smoke exposure can also irritate a child’s upper respiratory tract; it can increase the number of colds and sore throats that a child gets. Further, it has been linked to a small but significant reduction in lung efficiency and lung function in children.
One of the more frequent conditions that children can acquire from ongoing exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke is asthma. Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease, affecting an average of 1 in 13 school-age children. Children who don’t have asthma and are routinely exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop the illness. As for children who already have asthma, cigarette smoke can trigger asthmatic attacks and worsen asthmatic symptoms.
Another important point that parents who smoke should consider is that if there are cigarettes in the home, older children will be more tempted to try them. Every day in the United States, an estimated one thousand youths under 18 years of age begin smoking regularly!
Federal law banned cigarette advertising on radio and television in 1970. And while this was a brave and wise move on the part of the government — and one which helped reduce the percentage of Americans who smoke by half — glamorous, captivating cigarette ads still abound in magazines and on billboards. A parent is well-advised to take proactive steps to counter the influences to which his or her children are exposed through various media.
Consider the following numbers gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: in 2010, American cigarette manufacturers spent a startling $8 billion on advertising and promotions — $22 million a day!
States generate a combined total of tens of billions of dollars every year, money which is available to them for the prevention and control of tobacco use. These monies come from excise taxes and legal settlements against the tobacco industry. However, the CDC points out that states are spending only a tiny percentage of these funds to fight tobacco consumption. In 2013, states are expected to collect $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and legal settlements. But they are spending less than two percent of that money on anti-smoking programs.
Doctors recommend that parents not smoke inside the house, and that they alert visitors who smoke that smoking is not allowed around the children. In addition, for the 69 percent of smokers who stated in a recent CDC poll that they want to quit, there are over-the-counter and prescription aids to help them do so. Substituting a harmful behavior, smoking, for a healthy one, such as exercise, can be an even better option.
So aware have we become now about the dangers of secondhand smoke for adults (it’s responsible for about three thousand lung cancer deaths a year in adult non-smokers in the U.S.) and for children, that doctors now caution us about thirdhand smoke: the smoke particles and gases that linger after a cigarette is extinguished. These toxic, cancerous substances cling to furniture, clothing and hair … long after the smoker has finished smoking.
By Marc Courtiol