Exactly how dangerous is secondhand smoke to children?

Mom smoking cigarette around childby Lawrence Rhein, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Infant Lung Development

Most people know that smoking is bad for the people who light up a cigarette and inhale. And most non-smokers know that inhaling someone else’s smoke can be unpleasant. But is it dangerous?

High in toxic chemicals, secondhand smoke causes or contributes to many health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A new study, out this month, adds to the growing evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke is especially concerning for children.

The study used CT scans to show that nonsmoking adults who lived with smokers when they were children had more evidence of lung damage than those that did not grow up with a smoker in the house. This suggests that the effects of secondhand smoke on growing lungs can last for decades.smoking_study

The early years of a child’s life are a critical time for the lungs to grow. Infections or toxins can have long-lasting effects, so we should try to protect children from early exposure to any preventable injuries to the growing lung.

If you’re a smoker, how can you protect your children’s lungs from secondhand smoke?

  1. Quitting is good for you and your children. Quitting can be hard – nicotine is addictive – but there are a lot of programs and products out there to help.  Talk to your primary care physician for more information.
  2. If you can’t quit, always smoke outside.
  3. Wear a smoking jacket or change your clothes – toxins from secondhand smoke cling to clothing and skin.

We need to be supportive of our friends and family who smoke, because quitting can be difficult, but we also need to help educate them about how their smoking affects not only their own health, but also the health of people nearby, especially children.

Are you a smoker? Here are some resources to help you quit:

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