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Children And Secondhand Smoke

The harmful effects of secondhand smoke are felt most in those who many would say deserve it the least�children.

Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke or ETS, passive smoke, or involuntary smoke. It is released into the air when tobacco products burn or when smokers exhale. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can all produce toxic secondhand smoke. Scientific studies link secondhand smoke to heart disease, asthma, other respiratory diseases, and cancer among nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke contains at least 250 chemicals known to be toxic, including more than 50 that can cause cancer.

If you smoke, go outside
There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure, and eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect children. A primary source of children�s secondhand smoke exposure is in homes and vehicles. This smoke permeates the entire house and lingers long after the cigarette has been extinguished, so smoking in certain rooms, only at certain times, or by a window or fan is not safe.

�Your children�s health will definitely improve if you go outside to smoke,� says Carol Riker, UK associate professor and community advisor for rural smoke-free communities. �Hang a coat or raincoat near a door so you can stay warm and dry, but also so you don�t bring the residue back in the house on your clothes. This will help you, too, because changing your routine may start you on the road toward quitting.�

Riker also suggests ways to combat the urge to smoke while you have others in your car.

�For short trips around town, bring some carrots, pretzels, or gum with you to replace the habit of smoking in the car,� suggests Riker. �On a long trip, take a day off from smoking and manage cravings with an over-the-counter nicotine replacement that is available as gum, lozenges, or a patch. Ask the pharmacist for help figuring out what dose would be best for you, and remember not to smoke while using nicotine replacement.�

Health risks
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every year between 150,000 and 300,000 children under 1-1/2 years of age contract bronchitis or pneumonia from breathing secondhand tobacco smoke, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations. In children under 18 years of age, secondhand smoke exposure also results in more coughing and wheezing, a small but significant decrease in lung function, and an increase in fluid in the middle ear. Children with asthma have more frequent and more severe asthma attacks because of exposure to secondhand smoke, which is also a risk factor for the onset of asthma in children who did not previously have symptoms.

Another health risk from exposure to secondhand smoke is sudden infant death syndrome. Both babies whose mothers smoked while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from SIDS than babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lower birth weight babies, which makes babies weaker and increases the risk for many health problems.

Secondhand smoke exposure also impairs a child�s ability to learn. According to the Surgeon General, more than 21.9 million children are estimated to be at risk of reading deficits because of secondhand smoke.

Ways to shield children
�Breathing secondhand smoke causes a host of problems for children�s health,� says Riker. �Luckily, families can prevent these problems by smoking outside rather than in their homes or cars.�

Sadly, children are powerless to protect themselves from the dangers of secondhand smoke, but we can each play an important role in protecting them. Make your home and vehicle smoke-free at all times. If there are smokers in your family, they should always go outside to smoke. Opening a window is not enough. Make sure your children�s day-care centers and schools are 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free, insist that no one smokes around your children, and choose smoke-free restaurants. The single best step you can take to protect your family�s health and your own is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking will also reduce the chance that your children will grow up to become smokers themselves.

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