Cigarette smoke and your child

The CDC defines “secondhand smoke” as smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, as well as smoke breathed out by people smoking. Secondhand smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic, and 70 of which definitely cause cancer. Since 1964, 2.5 million deaths have been attributed to secondhand smoke exposure. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, for adults or children.

How serious is it?

Studies have shown that secondhand smoke can cause SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It can also cause or contribute to a large range of other health problems in children of all ages, including breathing problems like coughing and wheezing, and lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. These infections are especially serious in infants. Secondhand smoke exposure also causes ear infections, hearing loss, chronic asthma, and can negatively affect lung development.

Are there lifelong effects?

Yes. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma, diabetes, cardiac disorders, lung cancer, and other cancers later into their teenage and even adult years. They are also more likely to become smokers themselves.

What if I smoke outside? Or keep my child’s bedroom smoke-free?

Unfortunately, this won’t fully protect your child. Less smoke particles reach children whose parents only smoke outside, but children are still exposed to secondhand smoke, and face the risks associated with secondhand smoke, even if their parents only smoke outdoors. Not only can secondhand smoke travel through the air well enough to expose children in “smoke free” rooms, but experts have recently discovered the dangers of thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is the term used to describe particles from smoke which land on surfaces such as on counters, carpets, walls, curtains, and in clothing and other belongings. These particles are a relatively new subject of study, but research suggests that it may cause many of the same risks to children as secondhand smoke. Children who put objects in their mouths, crawl on floors, are held by people wearing smokey clothes, and who otherwise interact closely with items that have been in contact with cigarette smoke are still being exposed to harmful toxins.

I’m thinking of quitting, how can I get started?

Quitting is hard, but it’s never too late! There are many options to choose from including counseling, nicotine replacement therapies, or even cessation medications like Bupropion or Chantix. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out which cessation aids are right for you. Quitlines are free and can be used in addition to any other cessation method to keep you on track — the American Cancer Society’s line, for example, offers one-on-one counseling over the phone 24 hours a day.

I don’t smoke, but how can I protect my family from other exposure?

  • Hire only nonsmoking babysitters.
  • Do not allow your child to visit homes that are not smoke free.
  • If guests who smoke visit, ask that they store belongings out of reach of your child.
  • Do not let anyone smoke in your car, even with the windows down.
  • Do not go to restaurants that allow smoking even if they have a “smoke free” section
  • Request that friends and family not smoke in the company of your child.
  • Make sure your child’s schools and daycare centers are smoke free.

  • Americans For Nonsmokers Rights. (2009). Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke On Children. Retrieved from:
  • CDC. (2017). Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke Fact Sheet. Retrieved from:
  • Samet, J., MD, MS and Sockrider, M., MS, DrPh. (2016). Secondhand smoke exposure: effects in children. UpToDate Database. UpToDate, Waltham, MA. Accessed on March 30th, 2017.
  • Smith, Caitlin O. (2009). ‘Thirdhand’ smoke exposure another threat to children.  AAP News 2009;30;8. DOI: 10.1542/aapnews.20093011-8a
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