How Secondhand Smoke Affects Your Kids’ Health

Arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and benzene - sound like a tasty treat for a snack? Well if you’re running off to the kitchen to get yours, hold on a moment. Each one of those chemicals by itself is a cancer-causing agent and is fatal to humans in tiny but significant enough doses. Also, each one of these chemicals can be found coming off the burning end of a lit cigarette in the form of secondhand smoke.

American society seems to have launched something of a public relations war against cigarette smoking in the last fifteen years or so and the sentiments against smoking are not without reason. The damage caused by smoking to the lungs of the smoker has a significant impact on society both in terms of life and insurance prices. In fact, the CDC states that more Americans die each week as a result of cigarette smoking than have died in the Iraq war. That’s more than 1,200 brothers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters meeting their eternal destiny each day. But not all of the dead and dying are smokers themselves. The other end of a cigarette not stuck in a smoker’s mouth also takes its toll.

Secondhand smoke effects on others

To the average, healthy adult, secondhand smoke is little more than a smelly nuisance. More and more people are taking offense to being subject to having cyanide and arsenic forced into the alveoli of their lungs, but for brief periods of time the affect is negligible. In children, however, there is no such thing as negligible exposure to secondhand smoke according to the sitting Surgeon General.

Secondhand Smoke’s Effects on Infants

Most people know already that a mother should not smoke when pregnant with her child. The result of doing so is that it significantly increases the risk that the child will be born with serious health problems and with weaker lungs than those children whose mothers do not smoke. Even secondhand smoke exposure for the mother, however, can harm the child within her. Children have a 20% greater chance of being born with a low birth-weight if their mother is exposed to secondhand smoke during her pregnancy.

Infants and the youngest children who are subject to secondhand smoke with their still-developing lungs are particularly susceptible to damage, debilitating or chronic conditions and even death. The regular presence of secondhand smoke can result in reduced lung-function in the long term and increase their likelihood of suffering from regular coughs and breathlessness. Pneumonia and bronchitis as well as other serious lower respiratory tract infections are also more intermediate-term risks of exposure to secondhand smoke.

If those effects on the youngest members of our society aren’t serious enough, how about the ultimate penalty? A recent study by the California EPA associated 430 annual deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) with exposure to secondhand smoke.

Effects on Older Children

There are more than 200,000 reported asthma attacks each year that are triggered by exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can cause fluid to build up in the middle ear which results in more than three-quarters of a million visits to child health care providers or emergencies room. Infections of the middle ear are the leading reason why children end up having operations and are also a significant cause of hearing loss in children.

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