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Secondhand Smoke and Children

What's the Problem?

Secondhand smoke includes at least 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic, including more than 50 which cause cancer.

Children who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis, and other lung diseases, as well as more asthma attacks and ear infections.

Secondhand smoke can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections in children, and slows their lung growth.

Who's at Risk?

Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk. In 2000, approximately 22 million children between the ages of 3 and 11 were exposed to secondhand smoke.

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Can It Be Prevented?

Yes, disease from secondhand smoke can be prevented if children are protected from exposure to cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke. Smoke-free homes are first steps to help reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke.

Pediatricians should inform parents about the health hazards of secondhand smoke, and provide guidance on smoking cessation.

The Bottom Line

Cigarette smokers put their children at risk of health problems - when they expose them to secondhand smoke.

Case Example

Caitlin, a ten year old, said to herself, "It used to be so much better". Before, when her grandparents lived out of town and they came to visit, they would go outside and smoke those white sticks. Her mom said they are called cigarettes, her dad refers to them as coffin nails and both say they can kill you. Then her grandparents moved nearby, they come over at least once a week, if not more. Then, instead of smoking outside, they would smoke inside the house. She hated it. Her mom and dad wanted to be nice to them so they didn't say anything.

Then, Caitlin began to have trouble breathing every time her grandparents came to visit. She even had to go to the doctor a couple of times because of her wheezing. The last time she went to the doctor with her parents, her grandparents were asked to come along. She doesn't know what the doctor said to her parents and grandparents in the other room, but they didn't look very happy afterwards. All she knows is that now her grandparents have to smoke outside and can't even bring in the coats they were wearing when they were smoking. She feels much better. She really wishes her grandparents would quit smoking, but for now at least, she feels better.

For more information on the effect of secondhand smoke on children, visit Office of the Surgeon General Excerpts from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.

  • Page last reviewed: February 22, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 22, 2011
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