Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke that comes off the end of a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke that is exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke or ETS. Exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking. Secondhand smoke may seem like it isn’t a big deal but it actually has more than 4,000 different substances, many of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. In fact secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide.
Secondhand smoke poses threats to adults who don’t smoke and secondhand smoke has serious health effects on children. Children that are around high amounts of secondhand smoke, like those who have mothers or fathers that smoke, they have the highest risk of experiencing damaging health effects.
Children are more vulnerable to secondhand smoke because…
- they are still growing and developing
- have higher breathing rates in comparison to adults
- and have no control over their indoor environment or where they live.
So what are some of secondhand smoke’s effects on children?
- Well, for one second hand smoke can cause asthma in children who don’t already have symptoms of it.
- Secondhand smoke can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Secondhand smoke can cause infants and children younger than six years old who are regularly exposed to it to be at an increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections including pneumonia and bronchitis.
- Children who are around secondhand smoke regularly are also at an increased risk for middle ear infections.
- Secondhand smoke exposure causes respiratory symptoms, including cough, phlegm, wheeze, and breathlessness, among school-aged children.
- Babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant or who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth have weaker lungs than other babies, which increases the risk for many health problems.
Secondhand smoke has even more effects on children who already have asthma. For instance secondhand smoke affects children with asthma by triggering asthma attacks and making asthma symptoms much more severe. Not only can it do that but secondhand smoke cause new cases of asthma in children who didn’t have it.
Here are some statistics according to the surgeon general about secondhand smoke and its effects on children:
- On average, children are exposed to more secondhand smoke than nonsmoking adults.
- Based on levels of cotinine (a biological marker of secondhand smoke exposure), an estimated 22 million children aged 3-11 years and 18 million youth aged 12-19 years, were exposed to secondhand smoke in the United States in 2000.
- Children aged 3-11 years and youth aged 12-19 years are significantly more likely than adults to live in a household with at least one smoker.
- Children aged 3-11 years have cotinine levels more than twice as high as nonsmoking adults.
- Children who live in homes where smoking is allowed have higher cotinine levels than children who live in homes where smoking is not allowed.
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