Your health
By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly 

In 2007, the Surgeon General re-emphasized that secondhand smoke cause’s premature death and diseases in children and that U.S. children are more heavily exposed to secondhand smoke than nonsmoking adults. This is reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 22 million U.S. children ages 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke. 

Reasons why secondhand smoke is harmful 

• Bodies are developing; infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke. 

• Babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome than babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke.

 • Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lower birth weight babies, which makes babies weaker and increases the risk for many health problems. 

• Secondhand smoke exposure causes acute lower respiratory infection such as bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and young children. 

• Secondhand smoke exposure causes children who already have asthma to experience more frequent and more severe attacks. 

• Secondhand smoke exposure causes respiratory symptoms, including cough, phlegm, wheeze and breathlessness, among school-aged children. 

• Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for ear infections and are more likely to need an operation to insert ear tubes for drainage. 

• Children ages 3-11 have continine levels (a biological maker for secondhand smoke exposure) more than twice as high as nonsmoking adults. 

• Children who live in homes where smoking is allowed have higher continine levels than children who live in homes where smoking is not allowed. 

What you can do to protect children 

• Make your home and vehicle smoke free at all times. If there are smokers in your family, they should always go outside to smoke. Opening a window is not enough. 

• Make sure your children’s day care center and schools are 100 percent smoke and tobacco free. 

• Insist that no one smokes around your children. 

• Choose smoke-free restaurants. 

The single best step you can take to protect your family’s health and your own — is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking will also reduce the chance that your children will grow up to become smokers themselves. 

While quitting smoking may be difficult, there are a number of proven resources available to help, including free counseling and a range of FDA-approved medications. To receive free counseling to help you quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. 

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.