Health threats to children from secondhand smoke
Secondhand smoke has a marked effect on the health of infants and children. They're more vulnerable than adults are because they're still developing physically and generally have higher breathing rates, which means they may inhale greater quantities of secondhand smoke than adults do.
For children who live in households where someone smokes, the effects are worst during the child's first five years, since the child may spend the bulk of that time with a smoking parent or guardian. Ironically, infants are at the highest risk of secondhand smoke from their own mothers. A child who spends just one hour in a very smoky room is inhaling as many dangerous chemicals as if he or she smoked 10 or more cigarettes. And even when parents don't smoke at home or in the car, there can still be negative effects when children are exposed to the tobacco smoke pollution released from the clothing and hair of smoking parents.
Here's a look at some of the main health problems in infants and children associated with secondhand smoke.
Growth and development
Women who are exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are at higher risk of having babies of slightly lower birth weight. This can cause a host of health problems for the baby, such as cerebral palsy or learning disabilities. Women who actively smoke during pregnancy expose their developing baby to passive smoke — the chemicals may pass through the placenta — and put the baby at risk of lower birth weight.
An infant who was exposed to secondhand smoke as a developing fetus may be at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Post-birth exposure to secondhand smoke from the mother, father or others in the household also increases the risk of SIDS.
Asthma and other respiratory problems
Secondhand smoke may cause asthma in children. In children who already have asthma, secondhand smoke can make episodes more frequent and more severe.
Secondhand smoke is also tied to infections of the lower respiratory tract, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in those younger than 6. It's also associated with irritation of the upper respiratory tract and a small reduction in lung function.
Middle ear conditions
Children living in households with smokers are more likely to develop middle ear infections (otitis media).