Few health problems are as preventable as those caused by smoking tobacco. Smoking not only affects the smoker, but also others who inhale secondhand smoke. One of the largest groups impacted by this is children of smokers. Research shows that two out of every five children in the United States are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, and roughly 70 of them are known to cause cancer. All levels of secondhand smoke exposure are unsafe, and it can be especially harmful to children's health because their lungs are still developing.
In a recent study published in Tobacco Control, researchers found that children exposed to secondhand smoke at home are up to three times more likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as unexposed children. These results held true even when researchers accounted for parents' mental health and other factors (i.e., parents also had ADHD).
A 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal also found that exposure to secondhand smoke in four-month-old babies can cause an increased risk of tooth decay. A team of researchers analyzed data for 76,920 children born between 2004 and 2010 who received routine wellness checks at birth; 4, 9 and 18 months old; and at 3 years of age. Using questionnaires completed by their mothers to provide information on smoke exposure, the team found household smoking at 4 months of age was associated with about twice the risk of dental decay at age 3.
Avoiding smoking around your children isn't enough. Many of the dangerous substances found in tobacco stays in clothes, carpet and furniture well after you put out your cigarette. So how can you protect your children?
Heather O'Gorman, behavior change expert and wellness coach for Sharp Health Plan's Best Health program, offers the following tips for smokers with children:
- Quit smoking. This is the best thing that you can do for your children's health. Sharp HealthCare offers smoking cessation classes throughout San Diego for those looking to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. Check with your health plan to see if they offer any complimentary smoking cessation classes as well.
- Create smoke-free environments. This includes your home and car, and asking people not to smoke near your child, even outdoors.
- Dine smoke-free. If you live in an area where public smoking is still allowed, find a restaurant or other location that does not allow smoking. "Non-smoking" areas do not protect you or your child from secondhand smoke.
- Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking. Once children are old enough to understand, explain to them the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke so that they can make healthier choices.
Following these measures is one of the safest things you can do for your children's health.