How We Can Protect Our Children from Secondhand Smoke: A Parent's Guide
Secondhand smoke comes from lit cigarettes and cigars. It also comes from smoke breathed out by smokers. When children breathe secondhand smoke, it is like they are smoking, too. Secondhand smoke is made of thousands of chemicals. Many are poisons that stay in your body. What do these poisons do?
The U.S. Surgeon General asked scientists to find out. They found that secondhand smoke harms everyone, especially children. They also learned that
- An estimated 58 million nonsmoking Americans, including 14 million children aged 3-11 years, are exposed to secondhand smoke.
- They breathe it at home, day care, and in cars.
- Children are almost twice as likely as nonsmoking adults to be exposed to secondhand smoke.
Here are just a few of the chemicals and poisons in tobacco smoke.
Tobacco smoke harms babies, even before they are born. It harms children, too, because their lungs and bodies are still growing.
- Babies who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to die unexpectedly from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death.
- Babies and children who breathe secondhand smoke are sick more often with bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.
- For children with asthma, breathing secondhand smoke can trigger an attack. The attack can be severe enough to send a child to the hospital. Sometimes an asthma attack is so severe that a child dies.
Smoking in another room like a bathroom or bedroom pollutes all the air in your home. In an apartment, smoke in one room can go through the whole building.
- Smoking outside in a hall or stairwell does not protect children inside. Smoke goes under doors, windows, and through cracks.
- To protect the children inside, homes and apartment buildings must be smoke-free.
No amount of secondhand smoke is safe
- Even when you can’t smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm your child.
- Opening a window or using a fan does not protect children.
- Air purifiers and air fresheners do not remove smoke’s poisons.
- Smoke from one cigarette can stay in a room for hours. Don’t smoke at home, even when children aren’t there.
If you take care of children in your home, do not allow anyone to smoke there. Do not let babysitters or family and friends smoke around your children.
In Day Care.
Make sure smoking is not allowed in your child’s day care.
Make sure your child’s school is smoke-free inside and out. All school events should be “No Smoking.”
Choose restaurants and businesses that are smoke-free. “No Smoking” sections in restaurants do not protect children from secondhand smoke.
In Your Car.
Do not allow anyone to smoke if children are riding in your car. Rolling down a window does not protect them.
Children respect and learn from your actions and words. As caregivers, we teach our children by the choices we make.
- Ask people not to smoke around your children.
- Support family and friends who also want to stop smoking.
- Decide to have a smoke-free home and car, and ask family and friends to respect your decision.
- Get rid of all ashtrays in your home.
- Teach your children to stay away from secondhand smoke. Encourage your teens not to smoke.
- Make the decision to quit smoking. Get help from your doctor, family, and friends. Call this free quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
What happens now can change our children’s future.
For free information on how to quit smoking:
The content of this page is based on information in the following publications:
- Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Among Nonsmokers—United States, 1988–2014
- The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General and its summary, Secondhand Smoke: What it Means to You