How We Can Protect Our Children from Secondhand Smoke: Native American Population

How we can protect our children and traditions from secondhand smoke
Secondhand smoke is a danger to our Tribal Nations.

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.
  • American Indian adults and teens smoke more than any other group in the United States.

Here are just a few of the chemicals and poisons in commercial tobacco smoke.

14 million children aged 3-11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke.
14 million children aged 3-11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke. Benzene found in gasoline; Butane used in lighter fluid; Ammonia used in household cleaner; Toluene used in paint thinners; Cadmium used in making batteries; Hydrogen Cyanide used in chemical weapons

14 million children aged 3-11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke

Benzene found in gasoline
Butane used in lighter fluid
Ammonia used in household cleaner
Toluene found in paint thinners
Cadmium used in making batteries
Hydrogen Cyanide used in chemical weapons

How does secondhand smoke hurt our children? How does secondhand smoke hurt our children?

Commercial tobacco smoke harms babies, even before they are born. It harms children, too, because their lungs and bodies are still growing.

  • Pregnant women who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to have low birth weight babies. Low birth weight is a leading cause of infant death.
  • Babies who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to die unexpectedly from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death. American Indian babies are twice as likely to die from SIDS.
  • 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.
Children can’t hide from secondhand smoke at home. Here’s why...

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.
Native American baby

Keeping babies away from secondhand smoke lowers their chances of dying from SIDS.

Allowing people to smoke in only one room does not protect children. Cigarette smoke from outside gets inside, too.
Native American dwelling

We must protect children from secondhand smoke everywhere.

At Home.
If you take care of children in your home, do not allow anyone to smoke inside. 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.

At School.
Make sure your child’s school is smoke-free inside and out. All school events should be “No Smoking.”

In Public.
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.

Native American family at the dining table

Our children are so important. Ask family and visitors not to smoke around them.

Take simple steps to protect your children from secondhand smoke. Take simple steps to protect your children from secondhand smoke.

Native American dad and children

Elders can help protect children from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Children respect and learn from elders’ 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. Ask 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.
  • If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor, family, and friends to help. Call this free quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Special Note to Tribal Elders

You are the keepers of traditions and lead our communities in decision making. Please lead us to protect our children from secondhand smoke. Our tribe’s future depends on our children.

Native American family

For free information on how to quit smoking:

The content of this page is based on information in the following publications: