Tobacco Smoke and Children

Tobacco Smoke and Children

Would you give your child a cigarette to smoke? Most would consider this question ludicrous. But did you know that when you or others smoke around your child, that’s exactly what is happening? Yes, your child is smoking.

Young children and infants are very susceptible to the toxic, carcinogenic chemicals of tobacco smoke. This is a known fact. Infants exposed to cigarette smoke are at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, respiratory infections, ear infections, cancer and possibly death. Yet, despite the vast amount of information available on this topic, infants are still exposed to both secondhand and third-hand smoke. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 21 million (that’s 35%) children in the US live in homes where adults smoke on a regular basis. This number is astonishing!

Secondhand smoke is classified as a “known human carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Secondhand smoke is made up of smoke coming from the lit end of a tobacco source (a.k.a. sidestream smoke) and the smoke exhaled from the smoker (midstream smoke). Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are involuntary exposed to thousands of hazardous chemicals.

What is third-hand smoke? One way or another, we have all been exposed to third-hand smoke. Think back to a time you smelled lingering cigarette smoke in your hotel room, a bar, a cab or in the smoking section of a restaurant. That’s third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is the toxic residue left behind by cigarette smoke. These residues cling to smoker’s hair and clothing, furniture, carpet and other furnishings exposed to tobacco smoke. This includes car seats that have been in the car of a smoker. Why is this dangerous for young infants? These toxic residues, which consists of butane, chromium, cadmium, carbon monoxide, ammonia, toluene, arsenic, lead, hydrogen cyanide and polonium-210 (a highly radioactive chemical) just to list a few, accumulate on the infant’s hands and can be ingested with normal hand-to-mouth activity.

How do you protect your child from the invisible dangers of secondhand and third-hand smoke?

  1. Do not allow smoking in your home, car or any where around your child.
  2. If you smoke, quit. If others smoke, encourage them to quit and support their efforts to quit smoking.
  3. Avoid visiting homes which individuals smoke in.
  4. Keep car seats, clothing, blankets, toys and other baby products out of homes and/or vehicles which smoking occurs.
  5. Ensure smokers wash their hands prior to handling your child. Have smokers change their clothing prior to holding your child or cover their clothing when smoking.

Do your part to protect your child from secondhand and third-hand smoke. Remember, your child is too young to smoke.

Diba Tillery

Diba Tillery is a Registered Nurse, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Breastfeeding Educator and founder of, an on-line information and resource center for parents.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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