Smoking is expensive, addictive and, most importantly, deadly. Unfortunately, many adults willingly accept those consequences. But as parents and caregivers, we would never physically hand our children cigarettes with their dinner, during a car ride or any other time. Yet every day, millions of children are exposed to secondhand smoke without a thought for their health. Kids are also often exposed to “thirdhand” smoke, which comes from toxins that build up over time on surfaces exposed to smoke, including upholstery, carpets, clothing and hair. These layers of toxins can become cancer-causing substances.
Here are just a few facts on why second- and thirdhand smoke are dangerous to children:
There is no amount of smoke exposure that is risk-free.
Smoke exposure in a closed car is comparable to the exposure a firefighter might receive over 4 to 8 hours fighting a wildfire.
Opening a car window while smoking still exposes kids to 13 times the outdoor levels.
Toxins linger in cars for days after anyone smoked, exposing kids even if they weren’t present while you smoked.
Children are more likely to start smoking if they are exposed to smoke in cars.
Exposure to smoke at home or at work increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
Smoke exposure makes your kids more prone to colds and bacterial infections.
Forty percent of kids with asthma in the emergency department have at least one smoking parent.
Secondhand smoke stunts growth in children with cystic fibrosis.
The safety of e-cigarette vapors has not been fully tested and should be treated like any other form of tobacco smoke. Help your kids avoid it!
Protecting Your Children if You Smoke
Quitting smoking is tremendously difficult, but you can help your kids “quit” their exposure by removing exposure from your children. Here are some tips for doing this:
Never smoke in a car or inside the house.
Use a designated smoking jacket with hood to keep smoke off your clothing and hair, and leave this jacket outside.
Wash your hands and face after smoking.
Call, email and tweet your legislators to ban smoking in cars when children are present. Seven states already do this, and Ohio and other states need to have their legislators do the same!
Talk to your health care provider about smoking cessation measures.
Encourage all family members and friends to participate in smoking prevention.
Benjamin Kopp, MD is an assistant professor in the Section of Pediatric Pulmonology and a principal investigator in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
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