Parents Smoking Around Children and the Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke

Parents might understand that their smoking is putting their own health at risk, but fewer appreciate the risks they’re exposing their children to. Second-hand smoke is dangerous, and protecting your kids one of the most compelling reasons to quit if you’re a parent.

The dangers of active smoking were established beyond all doubt by the 1960s, but the second-hand risks of smoking were much less widely known until the 1990s. If you’re a parent, understanding the risks of active smoking may provide some motivation for you to quit, but the risks of second-hand smoke create a much more compelling reason: protecting your children. Parents smoking around children are effectively forcing kids to breathe in harmful chemicals and carcinogens. However, the risks of parental smoking aren’t confined to the chemicals children inhale as a result.

What is Second-Hand Smoke?

Second-hand smoke is the smoke released from the smoldering tip of the cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker directly. The smoker inhales the “mainstream” smoke directly, but much of this is visibly exhaled, being sent out into the environment for others to inhale “second hand,” hence the name. The “sidestream” smoke from the tip of the cigarette is being released through the entire time the cigarette is lit.

Like the smoke inhaled by the smoker, second-hand smoke is a combination of over 7,000 chemicals, including both the ingredients purposefully added to tobacco and the chemicals created from the process of burning the tobacco. Many of these chemicals are toxic, and around 70 are known carcinogens. This fact alone shows that parents smoking around their children are exposing them to risks.

Risks of Second-Hand Smoke to Children and Adults

If you’re concerned about the effects of smoking around your children, you have good reason to be. The Surgeon General’s report on “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke” compiles the available evidence on the risks of second-hand smoke and draws conclusions based on the strength of the evidence.

The risks of second-hand smoke to children are well-established by the Surgeon General’s report. The report shows that second-hand smoke increases the risk of infections of the respiratory system, middle ear disease, asthma, breathing-related symptoms (like coughing, phlegm, wheezing and breathlessness) and declines in lung function among children. The evidence is also suggestive of a link between second-hand smoke and numerous other illnesses, including childhood cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and brain tumors, although most of the risk comes from exposure during pregnancy and shortly after birth.

For adults, being exposed to second hand smoke raises your risk of getting lung cancer by 20 to 30%, coronary heart disease by 25 to 30% and having a stroke by 20 to 30%. There is suggestive evidence that second-hand smoke also increases the risk of breast cancer, nasal sinus cancer, several breathing-related symptoms (in asthmatics or healthy adults), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, declines in lung function and more.

Overall, parents smoking around children (or other adults) expose them to unnecessary risks. Protecting your children from second-hand smoke exposure should be a priority for parents.

Parental Smoking and the Likelihood of Kids Starting to Smoke

Although the direct impacts of inhaling smoke are concerning enough for the issue of parents smoking around children, there are other effects which should be considered too. The biggest other issue is that kids are heavily influenced by their parents, and this includes your smoking habits.

One study found that for youth between the ages of 13 and 21, parental smoking doubled their odds of taking up the habit themselves, compared to the children of non-smokers. Although your attitude towards smoking has a role to play too, this research suggests that your behavior – whether or not you smoke – is the most important factor. In short, kids will pay attention to what you do more than what you say.

Other research shows that parental influence is more consistent than influence from friends or other sources, and although it dips a little between 10th and 12th grade, it remains high. These two results show that parents smoking around children create more of a risk than just the exposure to second-hand smoke.

Stop Smoking to Protect Your Children

While smoking outside and ideally so your children don’t see you doing it could reduce the risks associated with parents smoking around children, there is only one way to remove the risk entirely: stop smoking. This isn’t easy, but the benefits to your own and your children’s health make it more than worthwhile. There are many different approaches you can try – ranging from medication to alternative nicotine products – but the important thing is that you make the effort to cut smoking out of your life as soon as possible.