Impact of Secondhand Smoke on Infants and Children

The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that breathing even a little secondhand smoke poses a risk to your health.

  • Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is the leading cause of death in infants after one month of age.
    • Chemicals in SHS appear to affect the infant’s brain in ways that interfere with the regulation of the infant’s breathing.
    • Infants who die from SIDS show higher levels of various biological markers for SHS than infants who die of other causes.
  • Parents can help protect their babies from SIDS by not smoking during pregnancy, and not permitting smoking in the home and around the baby after the baby is born.
  • Mothers who smoke or are exposed to SHS during pregnancy have smaller and less healthy babies.
  • SHS exposure increases the risk that a child will develop many different types of childhood cancer.
  • Children exposed to SHS develop more acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks.
  • Every year in children living in the U.S., SHS exposure causes:
    • nearly 2 million cases of ear infections;
    • 150,000-300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia
    • 8,000 to 26,000 new cases of asthma
  • Because children’s lungs are not fully developed, SHS smoke exposure causes respiratory symptoms and slows their lung growth.
  • Children exposed to SHS appear to have more respiratory problems and worse lung function as adults.
  • There is no risk-free level of SHS exposure. Even brief exposure can be dangerous.


Reference

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006.

 

This information has been approved by Amy Lukowski, PsyD (November 2011).

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