You may have decided that despite everything you know about the harmful effects of smoking on your health and quality of life, you still don't want to quit. You may consider your decision to smoke to be a personal one, because you believe that your choice only influences your own health. But think again--your smoking affects the health of everyone around you, including family members, and particularly children.
The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke causes bystanders to experience many of the same detrimental effects that smoking does. A report from the U.S. Surgeon General finds that secondhand smoke contains more than 250 cancer-causing chemicals. If you have kids, they're even more susceptible to tobacco smoke exposure. Due to their dependent status in the home, children have greater exposure to secondhand smoke than adults do on average. The Surgeon General notes that children ages 3-19 are significantly more likely than adults to live in a household with at least one smoker and are especially vulnerable to the toxins in secondhand smoke.
How Your Smoking Hurts Your Kids
Although they may lack the information or maturity to tell you themselves, your kids don't want you to smoke. In addition to anything that your kids may know about how smoking affects your health and longevity as their parent, their own health suffers as well. As their bodies are still developing, children have higher breathing rates than adults, which means they take in a higher volume of toxins with each breath.
These are some of the ways that secondhand smoke hurts your children's health, according to the Surgeon General:
- Increase in respiratory problems, such as coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing--as well as increased mucus and phlegm
- Greater susceptibility to acute lower respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia
- Increased risk for serious middle-ear infections
- More frequent and severe asthma attacks in children with asthma
If your child has asthma, it is even more vital that you quit smoking. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that as many as 1 million children with asthma experienced increases in the number and severity of their attacks when exposed to secondhand smoke.
How Smoking Hurts Babies
The younger your child is, the greater is his or her vulnerability to the effects of parental smoking. In fact, mothers who smoke while pregnant put their babies at serious risk for developmental problems.
Studies show that pregnant mothers who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their chance for having weaker, low birth weight babies. Additionally, babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant, as well as babies exposed to secondhand smoke after birth, face the following problems:
- They're more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome than babies who aren't exposed to cigarette smoke.
- They have weaker lungs than other babies, which increases their risk for a variety of health conditions.
- They have more respiratory infections than other babies. The EPA reports that exposure to secondhand smoke is responsible for up to 300,000 lower respiratory infections in children under 18 months of age--resulting in up to 15,000 hospitalizations each year.
How much smoke is too much?
Even if you're not a heavy smoker, your habit puts your kids at risk. The Surgeon General has determined that even brief and infrequent exposure can be harmful; there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Do the right thing for yourself and your family: stop smoking now. Your kids will thank you.