Second Hand Smoke and the Respiratory Health of Children

Smoking tobacco has been on a steady decline for many years, but that doesn’t mean the general population is free and clear of all health dangers of tobacco smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, which accounts for more than 480,000 deaths in the U.S., is the top preventable cause of death. About one in every five deaths, including many lung cancer deaths, can be attributed in some way to cigarettes.
woman smoking
We’ve known for a long time that cigarette smoke and passive smoke exposure is harmful to our health. With increases in knowledge about cigarettes, we’ve seen a steady, occasionally dramatic, decline in the number of smokers. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 42% of the U.S. population smoked in 1965. But that number has seen a significant drop. By 1980, the number was down to just above 33%, and by 1995 it was less than a quarter. Their latest information shows that only 17% of the population smokes, but that’s still a fairly large group of people; nearly 38 million people who still light up.

And this number doesn’t take into account the people who are exposed to secondhand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoke. Secondhand smoke exposure, in many cases, can be just as harmful to people as first-hand smoke. But there’s an important difference between smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke: choice.

The fact is, people who smoke are choosing to do so. Yes, addiction is at play, but secondhand smoke victims rarely get to choose. They are subject to the contaminants whether they like to smoke or not.

And as we’ll see, it’s the children who often suffer the most when it comes to secondhand smoke exposure and passive smoking.



Secondhand Smoke Exposure: Is it Still a Problem?

In the past, a person could light up a cigarette anywhere. Restaurants, buses, airplanes, even hospitals allowed smoking in and around the facility. With everything we know today, it seems ludicrous that smoking was so widely tolerated. Now, it’s far less common, with smoking banned by states or the federal government in many of the areas where it was commonplace.

But is it really the health hazard that everyone makes it out to be?

Has it really earned its bad reputation, or is it just bad PR?

When you look at some of the scientific data on the harms of cigarette smoke, especially the harms inflicted on children, you’ll see that cigarettes have certainly earned their pariah status.

Once again, we can turn to the CDC for statistics on the issue. Their information shows that there is really no “risk-free” level of second-hand smoke; even tiny levels of tobacco smoke over short periods can be considered harmful. Since 1964, secondhand smoke has actually been linked to about 2.5 million deaths of nonsmokers. And if you think that simply not smoking in the home solves the problem, you’re mistaken. Roughly 25% of nonsmokers’ homes had measurable levels of chemicals from tobacco smoke.

Despite the reduction in smokers, the problem remains. In 2011 through 2012, two out of every five children in the United States were exposed to secondhand smoke, and one in three nonsmokers who live in rental housing were exposed to second-hand smoke.

Clearly, even after years of steady decline in smoking rates, secondhand smoke remains a health issue in the United States. In addition, third-hand smoke, which is the effect of smoke that lingers in areas, is an additional cause for concern.



Secondhand Smoke: Loaded with Unhealthy Chemicals

Why is smoke exposure so harmful?

We’ve all pretty much accepted that tobacco smoke is harmful, but why are even trace amounts of chemicals an issue? Because, as you’ll see, it is loaded with harmful chemicals.

If you look at information from the American Lung Association, you’ll see that there are roughly 600 different ingredients in tobacco, which create over 7,000 different chemicals when burned. Of those 7,000 chemicals, at least 69 are known to cause cancer and many are considered poisonous. That’s right, tobacco smoke is not only carcinogenic (cancer-causing), it’s also poisonous.

Some of the more notable chemicals found in tobacco smoke include arsenic, which is used in rat poison, butane, which is essentially lighter fluid, carbon monoxide, lead, and formaldehyde. These are not chemicals we want in our bodies, so yes, smoke exposure is as bad as they say.



A Look at the Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Children

As you might have guessed, the effect of tobacco smoke on children is particularly severe. Secondhand environmental tobacco smoke and maternal smoking can cause harmful effects before the child is even born. For example, tobacco smoke is known to cause low birth weights, which can contribute to high levels of infant mortality. These effects have even been found in mothers who do not smoke, so avoiding tobacco smoke is crucial. Maternal smoking is also linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. It’s been discovered that infants who die from this disease have higher rates of nicotine in their lungs, regardless of whether or not smoking was reported by the mother. Infant death is perhaps the scariest effect of passive smoking.

Cognitive impairments have also been linked to secondhand smoke. The issue may disrupt a child’s ability to learn, causing potential problems with learning later in life, which can affect the child’s ability in math or visual reasoning.

Not only can secondhand smoke disrupt a child’s academic ability, it can also cause behavioral problems both inside and outside of the classroom. Children of women who were exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have ADHD and behavioral issues.

When a child exposed to secondhand smoke grows, there can also be significant respiratory issues. According to the EPA, every year as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 months are afflicted with pneumonia or bronchitis caused by secondhand tobacco smoke. Of all these cases, as many as 15,000 cases result in hospitalization. Infants whose mothers smoke in the same room have a 56% higher chance of hospitalization compared to those of mothers who smoke somewhere else. Risk of hospitalization increases to 73% if the mother smokes holding the baby, and a staggering 95% if the mother smokes while feeding the baby.


asthma treatment for child

Impact on Asthma

Asthma, which creates breathing problems for about one in ten children across the country, can be increased if the child is subjected to secondhand smoke. In fact, it’s estimated that possibly one million children with asthma have their condition worsened by the presence of tobacco smoke. A study from researchers at California’s Air Toxicology and Epidemiology Branch found that the amount of time a child is exposed to secondhand smoke can play a major factor in the development of asthma. The CDC says that children with asthma can have asthma attacks can be triggered by secondhand smoke because the smoke is very irritating to the sensitive airways. For this reason, smoke is one of the most common triggers of asthma.

A report from the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights lays out a lot of crucial information. Tobacco in Australia also describes many of the harmful effects on infants, who are the most vulnerable to this problem.



Smoke and Lung Development

There is also reason to believe that secondhand smoke and parental smoking can harm the lung development in children and lead to decreased lung function. This can cause an increased risk for the child to cough and wheeze. From about the time a child is born until they are roughly four years old, a child is particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution such as smoke. During the first four years, a child’s alveoli are still being developed. These are the tiny sacs in our lungs that act as gateways for oxygen to move from the air in the lungs to the bloodstream. They are crucial to overall health, but when a child is born, they do not have all of their alveoli, and smoke can disrupt development. Therefore, it can be extremely dangerous to a child if they are exposed to smoke. Impairment of the alveoli can cause decreased lung function, potentially leading to other health issues in the future, such a tendency to wheeze.

While we think of smoking as a problem for lungs, parental smoking actually can harm a child’s inner ear as well. The inner ear can become clogged with fluids, and this fluid can become infected with bacteria. Exposure to secondhand smoke, as you may guess, causes middle ear diseases, and children exposed to smoke have a 35% increased chance of inner ear infections and a 46% increased chance if their mother smokes.

Smoking can even impair a child’s ability to smell. A study from researchers in Israel found that children exposed to secondhand smoke have more difficulty identifying specific odors compared to children who are raised in environments with little or no smoke.

Even developmental issues can occur when a child is exposed to secondhand smoke. There is a large body of information suggesting children who are subjected to smoke have an increased risk of behavioral problems and learning issues. For example, children could have learning disabilities or the increased likelihood of acting out.

If a child has to go through surgery, secondhand smoke creates an increase in the chances of complications with anesthesia. A positive connection has been shown between respiratory complications while undergoing general anesthesia and a history of secondhand smoke exposure. There is also strong evidence that children exposed to secondhand smoke can have a different metabolic response to drugs, creating more complications.

Other health effects created by secondhand smoke or smoking during pregnancy include oral problems, such as tooth decay and poor attachments between gums and teeth. There is also an indication that gastrointestinal issues could be rooted in secondhand smoke exposure.

Clearly, secondhand smoke exposure is a terrible thing for children. With all the potential harms that smoke can inflict, some experts have gone as far as labeling secondhand smoke exposure a form of child abuse. Citing anecdotal evidence, a piece from Dr. Adam O. Goldstein references situations where children were suffering from issues caused by secondhand smoke. The doctor made recommendations that the parents stop smoking near the child, which were essentially medical and wellbeing-related suggestions, similar to how a doctor might recommend a new diet; as we all know, these suggestions are all too easy to disregard. However, Dr. Goldstein claims, if he had the legal authority to treat the issue as child abuse, and not a typical medical situation, changes could have been made. Essentially, the paper claims that the legal system should treat secondhand smoke in the same manner as neglect caused by drug or alcohol abuse.

From infants to school-age children to adults, from wheezing to infant death, environmental tobacco smoke is bad for all.



Protecting Children from Secondhand Cigarette Smoke

Okay, we’ve run through some of the numbers and described many of the terrible effects that come with secondhand smoke exposure. We’ve even discussed how some medical professionals think secondhand smoke is so bad it should be treated as child abuse in the legal system.

So, what can we do about reducing the risk of tobacco smoke?

Whether you have a completely-healthy child or a kid who suffers from asthma or other respiratory conditions, keeping them away from smoke and ensuring they are not exposed to the harmful chemicals of tobacco smoke is essential.

The #1 goal is to avoid cigarette smoke in all places, especially your home. Make your house a smoke-free environment, and don’t let anyone who enters your home smoke cigarettes, pipe tobacco, or cigars. By implementing smoke-free policies in your home, you’ll create a safer space for your children to enjoy. In your home, you should remove all ash trays, which only create temptations for smokers.

Make sure everyone, not just smokers, who enters your home understands your no-smoking policy. Don’t be afraid to tell people that smoking is not allowed, and if anyone asks if they can smoke, simply tell them no. After all, you’re concerned with the health of your family, so any reasonable person will understand. This is especially important for any caregivers or babysitters who may be watching your children.

You should also not allow smoking in your car. Children will spend a lot of time in the car going from school to activities to friend’s houses and home again, so don’t smoke in the vehicle, even when they are not in the car with you. Smoke can linger long after you smoke, leaving carcinogens behind that can be absorbed into the material and released later. This is considered thirdhand smoke.

If you know any parents that smoke, discuss with them your concern about secondhand smoke exposure and be sure to get their commitment to eliminating cigarette smoke near the children.

Teach your children to avoid cigarette smoke and let them know that it’s okay to speak up if someone is smoking near them.

When out in the community, you need to be just as diligent as in your home. Wherever you travel, ask in advance about their smoking policies. While many areas have smoke-free policies for smokers in restaurants and public spaces, it never hurts to ask for smoking policies in places like diners, theaters, and malls. You have every right to vote with your wallet and not spend your money at, or take your children to, places where smoking is allowed.

With simple steps and a little consistency, you can improve the overall health of your children by helping them avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. In the end, this can mean better health for everyone, including yourself!



Air Purifiers: Are They a Viable Choice for Reducing Smoke Exposure?

One of the best ways to improve your home’s air quality is by using an air purifier with a HEPA filter, and there is solid evidence that it can be effective for removing smoke as well. A study from the University of Michigan found that properly-sized air filter systems can lower particulate matter in a smoker’s home. However, the study found that proper operation is key, as there must be the right air exchange rates and the filter must be able to maintain performance over a long period.

Fortunately, Oransi has two high-quality air purifiers that are perfect for removing smoke. These purifiers use the latest technologies, including HEPA filters and activated carbon, to create cleaner air in your home.



EJ Air Purifier

The EJ120 air purifier is made in the USA and has an efficient and quiet German motor that gives the unit outstanding performance. It removes 99.99% of airborne allergens and particles, making it ideal for removing tobacco smoke from a home. It not only tackles smoke, it can also trap bacteria, pollen, pet dander, and dust.

It’s best for rooms measuring up to 1,500 square-feet, and can be used for offices, bedrooms, living rooms, and other areas where smoke-removal is required.



Erik 650A Air Purifier

With a HEPA filter that has an 18 rating on the MERV scale, this air purifier is one of the most powerful and effective options you can find. It offers the highest level of filtration on the market, allowing you to remove cigarette smoke and other contaminants from your home. It also has a proprietary gas filter that helps remove odors and gas from the air.

It has enough power to clean a room measuring 1,700 square feet with two air changes per hour. This makes it perfect for large residential areas or commercial property. With the ability to remove odors, smoke, bacteria, mold, and pet dander, this purifier will ensure cleaner air for your entire family.



Excellent Air Purifiers for Your Home or Office

If you want more information about air purifiers, HEPA filters, activated carbon, and smoke removal, contact the team at Oransi today. We’ll make sure you have the right information to make a fully informed decision on your air-purifier purchase.

From small purifiers for a child’s room to large purifiers for commercial spaces, we have everything you need for healthy, clean air!