Secondhand smoke threatens everyone who inhales it, especially kids. Many young children live in a house with a smoker, and the result is an increased risk for health problems.
Secondhand smoke refers not only to the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, but also to the smoke exhaled by smokers.
The California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 3,400 nonsmokers die of lung cancer each year because of secondhand smoke. It also causes 22,700 to 69,600 deaths from heart disease in nonsmokers. It's so harmful the EPA labels it a Group A carcinogen, the category for the most harmful cancer-causing agents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 11 live with at least one smoker in their homes. Children are more vulnerable to secondhand smoke because their lungs are still developing; exposure leads to decreased lung function.
These children are more prone to:
Respiratory symptoms and acute lower respiratory tract infections. In children 18 months old and younger, secondhand smoke causes up to 300,000 cases of pneumonia and bronchitis each year, the CDC says. Secondhand smoke can cause asthma in children with healthy lungs, and it can worsen asthma for children who already have it.
Sudden infant death syndrome. An EPA study in California estimated that up to 2,700 deaths from SIDS were linked to secondhand smoke.
The best thing a parent can do for a child is to quit smoking altogether, says Stephen Babb, program consultant at the Office on Smoking and Health at the CDC. "It may take a while to quit, but while you are trying to quit, go outside. Just going to another room won't be sufficient. Secondhand smoke lingers."
Even if you can't quit smoking right away, you can protect your child from secondhand smoke: • Don't smoke anywhere in your house and don't let other residents smoke inside. • Make sure no one who visits your house smokes in front of your child. • Check the smoking policies of places where your child spends time, such as day-care centers.
Smokers who quit before age 50 will reduce their risk of dying in the next 15 years by 50 percent, says the CDC. If you want to quit, ask your doctor for help or find out if your employer has smoking cessation programs.
If you didn't have a reason to quit before knowing what secondhand smoke can do to your child, you do now.