DEAR DR.PAUL: Why is second hand smoke so bad for children?
DR.PAUL ANSWERS: During my years working in childhood asthma, I was struck by the number of kids who reported that their parents or guardians smoked at home. So my personal feeling from this experience was that there is a link between asthma and second hand smoke exposure. Of course, this impression is supported by the many scientific studies that have proven the negative effect of second hand smoke on children. I thought it would be timely to review the health effects of exposure to second hand or environmental tobacco smoke.
Here are some facts that I think will explain why health experts are so concerned about the effects of second hand smoke, especially in children:
- One puff of tobacco smoke contains hundreds of dangerous chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer. Actually when one smokes, the filter in the cigarette itself may partially block some of these products from being inhaled. However when one is inhaling passive smoke from another smoker, there is no filter. Children are especially susceptible to second-hand smoke, because for the same level of exposure, they will absorb more of these toxins than adults due to their small size.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics states that exposure of children to environmental tobacco smoke is associated with increased rates of lower respiratory tract illness and increased rates of ear infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (or crib death). Also, it is well known that a child’s developing respiratory system is more susceptible to infections and toxins during the first 5 years of life as compared to adults. Tragically, exposure during childhood to environmental tobacco smoke may also be associated with development of cancer during adulthood.
- Recent studies have also shown that 3rd hand smoke, for example going into a room where someone had smoked previously, is also a potential danger. Many people are surprised to find out that many of the toxic chemicals found tobacco smoke do not have an odor.
- Babies born to mothers who were exposed to second hand tobacco smoke during pregnancy have been shown to have nicotine and other tobacco related chemicals in their urine after birth. To be clear, the mothers did not actively smoke during pregnancy, they were exposed to second hand smoke, and still, traces of the toxins were found in their newborn babies.
- Of course, if a mother smokes during pregnancy, the baby is directly exposed to these toxins and it is well known that among other problems, babies born to mothers who smoke are smaller than normal at birth, and tend to have higher risks of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
- Second-hand smoke in vehicles is more concentrated than most other circumstances, and can be up to 27 times greater than in a smoker’s home.
The above facts are very convincing. By protecting our loved ones, especially children from second hand smoke, we help them towards living as healthy and well a life as possible.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.