Secondhand Smoke and Your Child

Children’s Services Colchester Hospital Children’s Ward Tel: 01206 746208 or 746209

Children’s Elective Care Unit Tel: 01206 744237 Adapted from Raising Children Network (Australia) Public Information (2017)

What do I need to know?

Second-hand smoke is the smoke you breathe in from other people’s cigarettes, cigars or pipes. It can cause serious health problems for your child.

Breathing in second-hand smoke is sometimes known as passive smoking.

More Information

Second-hand smoke is made up of ‘mainstream’ smoke, which the smoker breathes out and ‘sidestream’ smoke, which drifts from the end of a burning cigarette. Children most commonly come into contact with second-hand smoke when their parents, family and friends smoke.

Third-hand smoke is the smoking residue that lands and stays on nearly every surface where someone has been smoking, including on skin, hair, clothing, furniture and flooring. This means babies and children are still exposed to the harmful chemicals in cigarettes even after adults have finished their cigarettes.

Second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke are especially dangerous for babies and children. This is because babies and children have smaller airways and less mature immune systems than grown-ups. Babies and children also spend a lot of time on or near the floor and often put their hands and toys into their mouths. This means they might swallow or breathe in toxins from third-hand smoke.

Children exposed to second-hand smoke are at an increased risk of premature death and disease.

Second-hand smoke can impair a baby’s breathing and heart rate, which can put the baby at a higher risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUD) including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs) and fatal sleeping accidents. If parents smoke during pregnancy and after their baby is born, their baby’s SUDI risk increases. The more second-hand smoke a baby is exposed to, the higher the risk of SUDI.

If children are exposed to second-hand smoke, they can have swelling and irritation in their airways. They’re also more likely than other children to develop a range of lung and other health problems. These problems include:

  • asthma
  • bronchiolitis
  • bronchitis
  • croup
  • ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • tonsillitis
  • meningococcal disease, including meningitis and septicaemia
  • childhood cancers, including leukaemia
  • exposure to second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke can affect a child’s developing brain because the brain is very sensitive to even very small amounts of toxins.
  • The most important way to protect your child from second-hand smoke is to quit smoking.
  • The only way to protect children from third-hand smoke is to have a smoke-free home and car. This reduces your child’s exposure to second-hand and third-hand smoke. It also gives your child a positive non-smoking role model.

If you’re not quite ready to quit, or if someone else in your home smokes, there are still things you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to the smoke:

  • One of the most important things you can do is to make sure no-one smokes near your child in your house or car. This means you’ll have to smoke away from your child, and that you’ll need to ask other family members, friends, carers and visitors to do the same.
  • Also make sure no-one ever smokes in an enclosed area near your child.
  • You might need to explain to trends and family that simply blowing smoke away from your child doesn’t protect our child from the harmful effects or smoke.
  • When visiting friends or leaving children in the care of someone else, try to make sure the environment is free of smoke.
  • Never smoke in a car that carries children. Opening the car window isn’t enough to stop smoke affecting children.
  • Since 2015 it has been illegal in England and Wales to smoke in a vehicle carrying anyone who is under 18. It is now also against the law for a driver not to stop someone smoking in his/her car in these circumstances. The fine for both offences is £50.

Every child has the right to grow up in a smoke-free environment.

Make a commitment that your home and car will be free of smoke at all times.

Insist that no-one smokes around your child.

  • You can’t get rid of third-hand smoke by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or by confining smoking to certain areas of a home.
  • If children live in a household where one or more adults smoke: They’re exposed to greater health risks. They need to go to the doctor more often. The chance that they’ll take up smoking in adolescence doubles.
  • Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals. Over 60 of these are known to cause cancer in humans -Tobacco smoking is highly addictive, and 80% of smokers start smoking before they’re 18.
  • Some young people even experience symptoms of tobacco dependence within a day of first inhaling a cigarette.

If you, or someone you know who smokes, would like NHS provided help and support to try and quit smoking, Provide Essex Lifestyle Services have a friendly, non-judgemental, expert smoking cessation service.

They can be contacted directly as below:

Phone: 0300 303 9988