Protect Your Kids from Secondhand (and Thirdhand) Smoking

Are your children victims of "thirdhand" smoke?

Take a moment to consider the following: Many children today are exposed to a man-made toxin in their homes, which pervades their food (including breast milk), clothes, and baby bottles and sippy cups. The toxin—a noxious brew of dozens of dangerous chemicals like arsenic and cyanide—kills more adults than any other known substance, and in young children, is linked to sudden death syndrome, asthma, pneumonia and premature birth. Though it costs almost nothing to remove the toxin from the home, a recent study shows that many parents don't worry about it.

Are we talking about BPA in plastic feeding bottles? Lead paint on toddler train sets? The presence of salmonella in peanut butter? No. The culprit is tobacco, which enters many children's bodies through secondhand smoke, or what's now being labeled "thirdhand smoking".

Surveys show that 90 percent of parents understand that smoking with a child nearby (or secondhand smoking) is harmful. But far fewer realize that kids don't even need to be in the same room with a lit cigarette to ultimately be exposed. Today, scientists confirm that blowing cigarette smoke causes billions of tiny, invisible particles to coat the entire home, and these particles can remain on beds, stuffed animals and other surfaces for weeks, even months. Over time, these particles gradually leach into the air—just like an air freshener—where they're inhaled or eaten by kids (thirdhand smoking).

So here's what parents should do:

  • If you smoke, quit for your child's health. Today, the United States is at what's been called a "tobacco tipping point," since fewer than 8 percent of highly educated adults smoke. States like California and Utah have dropped smoking rates in adults to under 14 percent, down from over 57 percent a few decades ago. You'll be in good company, since almost 70 percent of smokers want to quit. A great place to start is, a nonprofit federal service that explains how to quit, refers qualified counselors and details medicines that help reduce cravings. 
  • If you can't quit, only smoke outside the home with the doors closed. In 2004, Swedish doctors studied toddlers living with a smoker and discovered that smoking outside with the door closed cut the amount of nicotine in the toddler's urine ten- to hundredfold. Other precautions, like using a fan, didn't do much.
  • Support higher federal taxes on cigarettes. Surprisingly, studies show that charging people just a little more per pack cuts down a lot on smoking. Another idea: You can even charge yourself a "family" tobacco tax of $3 per pack, which you promise to spend on anti-smoking programs or aids for yourself.

Get more parenting tips from Dr. Darshak Sanghavi's blog.

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