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Tobacco consumption does not only harm the person who smokes, but it also brings harm to the people around the individual, especially children. This is because children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke. If you are a regular smoker and are surrounded by children, we hope that this article can encourage you to quit smoking – not only for your own health but also for the sake of the young ones.
(Shoo-ing away the secondhand smoke like Moana)
You may have heard of secondhand cars, but what about secondhand smoke? Secondhand smoke refers to the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. The exposure to secondhand smoke is usually involuntary – meaning the person did not choose to inhale those smokes.
Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, of which hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other prominent health agencies have designated secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen, i.e. a cancer-causing agent. Very importantly, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Any exposure to secondhand smoke, regardless of any shape or form, is bad for your health.
A cross-sectional study that looked at the salivary cotinine concentrations (a biomarker to track secondhand smoke exposure) among 1064 schoolchildren (10-11 years) attending 24 schools in Malaysia found that the more smokers the schoolchildren live with, the higher their salivary cotinine concentrations.
Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, which can result in death or long-term illness. The effects of secondhand smoke in children can even last until their adulthood or throughout their lives.
Image credit: Khoa Pham on Unsplash
Because the toxic contents in tobacco smoke can cross the placenta, a fetus whose mother is a smoker has a 50% higher risk of deaths or stillbirths. Women who smoke are also more likely to have a baby with low birth weight, i.e. less than 2.5kg. A recent meta-analysis shows that children from mothers who continued smoking during pregnancy had higher risks of preterm birth and counterintuitively, childhood overweight. Besides a higher risk of having disrupted delivery of a baby, a systematic review of studies published from 1959 through 2010 found that babies whose mother smokes have a higher risk of birth defects, including heart defects, problems in movements, eye anomalies and oral clefts. Healthy babies whose mothers are smokers also are more likely to die unexpectedly while asleep, a condition known as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
All in all, mother who smokes during pregnancy can lead to the following issues in babies:
Higher risk of stillbirths
Low birth weight
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
It is also encouraged that women should quit smoking before getting pregnant. Quitting smoking during pregnancy does not bring as many benefits as quitting before pregnancy.
Infants with parents who smoke are more likely to contract bronchitis and pneumonia in the first year of life. Bronchitis is the inflammation of the airway, which can lead to aggressive cough and phlegm production. a long time. Pneumonia is the infection that inflames the lung and in serious scenarios, can lead to difficulty in breathing and death. Such effects do not only occur with mothers who smoke, but fathers who smoke can also lead to higher respiratory illness in children as well.
Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to develop asthma. Asthma is a health condition that can limit a child’s ability to enjoy life and even threaten their lives; it requires long-term treatment and monitoring, and cannot be completely cured of it but only manage it to prevent relapse. Secondhand smoke also can harm the children’s and teenager’s lungs, leading to smaller lungs and poorer lung function compared with their peers who have lesser secondhand smoke exposure.
Secondhand smoke exposure also increases a child’s risk of getting otitis media, a middle ear disease. Otitis media, if not managed properly, can lead to hearing loss and language development issues in children.
If the health issues above are not scary enough for you to quit smoking for the little ones, here are also the science-proven effects of secondhand smoke in children:
Dental caries (tooth decay)
Formation of plaques in blood vessels (atherogenesis), which increases the risks of heart attack, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases in adulthood
Study also suggests that high exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to early smoking initiation among teenagers.
To protect your children from secondhand smoke:
Do not allow anyone to smoke anywhere in or near your home.
Do not allow anyone to smoke in your car, even with the window down.
Make sure your children’s day care centers and schools are tobacco-free.
Look for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking. “No-smoking sections” do not protect you and your family from secondhand smoke.
With 21.3% of Malaysians adults who are current smokers, the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on our children’s health should not be taken lightly. If you are a smoker and would like to quit smoking with the help of a healthcare professional, consult any doctor or community pharmacist who offers mQUIT services. You can get nicotine-replacement therapy that helps you manage your nicotine dependence with much more ease.
If you have any questions related to quitting smoking, you can consult our professional doctors and healthcare professionals on Doc2Us. Doc2Us is a mobile application that allows you to talk to a doctor or any healthcare professionals via text chat at any time and from anywhere. For better communication, you can even send our online doctor images or voice messages related to your medical inquiry.
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Disclaimer: As a service to our users and general public, Doc2Us provides health education contents. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
UpToDate - Secondhand smoke exposure: Effects in children
Cover image credit: Irina Iriser on Unsplash
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