Dr. Mom: Secondhand smoke a clear health hazard to kids

05/10/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:10 PM

Smoking is not good for you. I think we all can agree on that. It's bad for your lungs, leaves you prone to chronic respiratory infections, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It's a bad habit indeed that's worth putting forth the effort, time, and commitment to stop.

And what about our children? How does parental smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke affect them?

Several studies within the past decade, including some recently, have illustrated how damaging secondhand smoke is to a child's health.

Take the most recent Australian study, driving home the incredible reality that parental smoking increases the risk of SIDS by up to 80 percent. Mothers who smoke while pregnant confer a fivefold increase of sudden infant death syndrome to their offspring, while babies born into a smoking home are saddled with three times the risk of SIDS.

Many experts, myself included, agree that exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the most significant and outstanding risk factors for SIDS today. And yet, one out of five pregnant women will continue to smoke, and thousands of babies are brought home to a smoke-filled environment.

Nicotine is a known neurotoxin that can damage developing brain stem cells, interfering with an infant's heart rate, respiration, sleep and arousal.

Pregnant women who smoke also increase their risk of preterm labor. A recent report by the World Health Organization found a 30 percent increase in U.S. preterm births since 1981. While the causes of preterm labor are multi-factorial, there's no denying that maternal smoking can play a huge role.

A critical public health issue? You bet.

Secondhand smoke exposure also is clearly linked to asthma in children. We've long known that children living with a smoker are more prone to asthma attacks. New studies are shedding new light on this link.

Mothers who smoke while pregnant have children with an increased risk of developing asthma, up to 50 percent in some cases. Babies and toddlers living with a smoker are more prone to wheezing and eventually developing asthma.

So, we now have mounting evidence that parental smoking is not merely triggering wheezing in asthmatic children but could actually be a significant factor causing a child's asthma.

This is information every parent should know. Not to incite guilt, but rather to realize that once you become a parent, your smoking no longer affects just you. It profoundly affects your children.

I see it too often in clinic; with recurrent wheezing, one ear infection after another, or a curious case of pneumonia. And these are merely the outward afflictions we can see. The invisible, ongoing damage still is taking place in their lungs and blood vessels, and could potentially lead to cancers and cardiovascular disease in the future.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of lecturing or adding to the already long list of reasons for parents to feel guilty. However, not smoking is one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children, for their own health and most definitely for the health of their children.

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