How Bad is Tobacco Smoke for Children?

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A recent national survey indicated that 43% of children 2 months to 11 years of age live in homes with at least one smoker. Because many young children spend a large part of their day indoors, they can have a higher exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. This passive smoking has a harmful effect on the lung health of children. Children who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke have higher rates of lower respiratory illness (colds and wheezing) during their first year of life, higher rates of middle ear fluid and ear infections, and higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition, children with asthma whose parents smoke have more severe symptoms and more frequent exacerbations. Exposure during childhood to environmental tobacco smoke may also be associated with development of cancer during adulthood.

We encourage all parents to stop smoking for their own health as well as the health of their children. Limit your child’s exposure to smoke in outside settings, including restaurants, stores, and relative’s homes and in automobiles. Do not smoke inside your home. Smoke outside only. We recommend that you wear a jacket or shirt while outside that you then remove upon entering the house. The particulate matter that is in tobacco products can remain on your clothing and may be inhaled by the child when held. You may talk to your doctor about how to stop smoking as well as many local hospitals have smoking cessation programs. You may want to look at the website for the American Lung Association www.lungusa.org for more information.

Information compiled from the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Pediatrics 99(4):639-642, April 1997.