Women and Smoking

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How can secondhand smoke affect your children’s health?

It’s estimated that about 1 out of every 4 children ages 3 to 11 in the United States lives with at least one smoker. Studies show that older children whose parents smoke get sick more often. They have bronchitis and pneumonia more often, and they cough and wheeze more. Secondhand smoke can also trigger asthma attacks, make asthma symptoms worse, and even cause new cases of asthma in kids who had not shown symptoms before. More than 40% of children who go to the emergency room for asthma live with smokers. A severe asthma attack can be deadly.

Children who live with parents who smoke also get more ear infections. This often causes fluid to build up in their ears and they may need surgery to have ear tubes placed for drainage.

Some of these problems might seem small, but they add up quickly: think of the expenses, doctor visits, medicines, lost school time, and often lost work time for the parent who must stay home with a sick child. And this doesn’t include the discomforts that the child goes through.

The Surgeon General’s report: Secondhand smoke kills people who don’t smoke, and makes others sick

Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), has also been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer. The 2006 Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke stated that:

  • Many millions of Americans, both children and adults, are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces, even though a great deal of progress has been made in tobacco control.
  • Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke.
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma.
  • When parents smoke, it causes breathing (respiratory) symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.
  • Secondhand smoke harms the heart, blood vessels, and blood circulation right away. Over time it can cause heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks.
  • The scientific evidence shows there’s no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Any exposure is harmful.
  • The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke indoors is to prevent all smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Last Medical Review: 02/07/2014
Last Revised: 02/07/2014