Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Think of children, stop smoking near them

Donya Betancourt, Pediatrician,

Despite indisputable evidence regarding the risks of smoking, people continue to smoke, and the impact of smoking-related diseases continues to increase.

Researchers have also found that more than 40 percent of children aged between two months and 11 years live with at least one smoker.

In general, people have been taught that smoking is a matter of choice for adults, that it is a person's right to smoke if they choose to do so.

The smoking issue is an important issue. When an adult chooses to stop smoking it is a great success, not only for your health but even more so for your loved ones and children.

The burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers is a health risk for everyone in the same room.

The scientific evidence of tobacco hazards is strongest for smokers. However, regular exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke also threatens the health of nonsmokers. There's no question that smoking is hazardous for your health.


Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 substances that can damage your heart and blood vessels and cause cancer. Smoking also contributes to chronic pain by increasing fatigue and muscle weakness. Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke replaces oxygen in your red blood cells. Less oxygen means less energy and fewer nutrients for your body tissues.

About half the smoke generated from a cigarette is sidestream smoke. Sidestream smoke contains essentially the same compounds as does smoke inhaled by the smoker. Environmental tobacco smoke, is a mixture of sidestream smoke.

Research has linked secondhand smoke to lung cancer cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, middle ear infections, and nasal and eye irritation. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of ear infections, wheezing, cough, pneumonia and bronchitis.

The role of secondhand smoke in the development of cancer is controversial. Even the evidence of a link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer is not as strong as the link between secondhand smoke and respiratory disorders but that does not mean that people should disregard the warnings.

What are the effects? The respiratory effects of secondhand smoke appear to be more profound for younger children. Among children ages four to six, those with high levels of cotinine were 4.8 times more likely to have had wheezing apart from a cold in the previous year. They were also 5.3 times more likely to have asthma. The same study found that children with high levels of cotinine had a 1.8 times higher risk of experiencing wheezing apart from a cold and twice the risk of missing six or more days of school during the previous year. They also performed worse on lung function tests.

Children whose parents smoked during pregnancy had lower lung function on average. That suggests that exposure to smoke while in the uterus may have long-term effects on lung growth.

Exposure to cigarette smoke begins in the womb. Concentrations of cotinine in the blood of fetuses 21 weeks to 36 weeks old are about 90 percent of the levels in the mother's blood. Cotinine is also transferred in breast milk. The study found that infants who were exclusively breast-fed by mothers who smoked had urinary cotinine levels in the same range as those of active smokers.

Passive smoke can initiate childhood asthma and has been linked to increased severity of asthma attacks in children.

Infants whose mothers smoke during and after pregnancy are three times more likely to die of SIDS than are infants of nonsmoking mothers.

One study found that nonsmoking women 30 years or older who lived with a smoker had a greater chance of having a premature or underweight baby than those who lived in a smoke-free home. As we know, smokers and nonsmokers are affected by nicotine and cotinine in a similar way -- of course if a mother smokes it affects the children more but if a father smokes it also affects the children in terms of asthma and lung dysfunction.

So let's think about our loved ones and stop smoking around them.