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Secondhand Smoke Dangers

Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Impact of Secondhand Smoke on Children

Children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke (SHS) because their lungs are still developing; they have higher breathing rates than adults; and they have little control over their indoor environments.

Here are some effects of secondhand smoke on children:

  • It can cause asthma in children who have not previously exhibited symptoms
  • It increases the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • It increases the risk for middle ear infections
  • Each year in the U.S. SHS is associated with an estimated 8,000–26,000 new asthma cases in children and 150,000–300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children 18 months and younger. Between 7,500–15,000 of these require hospitalization
  • For children with asthma SHS can trigger asthma attacks and make asthma symptoms more severe

Secondhand smoke impacts learning:

  • Secondhand smoke exposure impairs a child's ability to learn, putting them at increased risk for difficulties with reading and math
  • Tobacco-related health complications are major contributors to missed school days by students, impacting negatively on their learning and requiring parents to miss work

Reducing Smoke in Your Environment

  • Until you can quit, smoke outside. Moving to another room or opening a window is not enough to protect your children
  • Limit smoking to outings, such as checking the mail or walking the dog
  • Don't allow anyone else to smoke inside your home either; ask family, visitors and people who work in your home to smoke outside too
  • Remove ashtrays and put lighters, cigarettes, and matches out of sight
  • Pets exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of cancer
  • Smoke damages furniture, curtains, rugs and other furnishings
  • Cigarette burns cause damage and fires
  • Homeowner insurance rates are often lower for smoke-free homes
  • Smoke and burns damage the interior of vehicles and reduces their resale value

Secondhand Smoke Research

It's not a smoking gun, but it's smoking-related, and it's there in bright medical images: evidence of microscopic structural damage deep in the lungs, caused by secondhand cigarette smoke. For the first time, this MRI technique shows secondhand smoke damage to lungs. Researchers have identified lung injury to nonsmokers that was long suspected, but not previously detectable with medical imaging tools. Researchers also noted that damage will occur with just thirty minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The slides indicate (a) a subject with low exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke; (b) a subject with high exposure; (c) a smoker. (Generally, the red areas mean relatively healthy parts, and the yellow areas mean relatively abnormal.) (Credit: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Virginia.)