The Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Children

Chrome 2001
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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

The Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Children

Mental Health
Injury and Illness Prevention
The Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Children
The Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Children
Learn about the effects that smoking can have on your child.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Children

One of the most important things you can do for your child's health is minimize his exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke). When you smoke, everyone around you smokes, including your children.

The dangers of smoking

Children living in households where people smoke are more likely to cough, be short of breath, and have other respiratory symptoms. Their risk of pneumonia and asthma is increased. They experience irritation of their eyes, nose and throat, and have more colds and ear infections. They even require surgery more often for repeated ear infections and tonsillitis.

Unfortunately, if a child's parent smokes, the child may view smoking as acceptable. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to pick up the habit than children whose parents don't smoke. Adolescents who smoke are more likely than nonsmokers to also use other drugs, including alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. There is evidence that smoking during adolescence, the time when most people begin smoking, may cause genetic changes that lead to lung cancer among former smokers later in life.

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Quit now

If you smoke, quit now. It's not easy to quit smoking, but you can do it. More than 1 million people quit smoking successfully each year. Your doctor probably urged you to quit smoking while you were pregnant. Even if you tried to quit before, try again as soon as possible. Quitting at any time is better than not quitting at all.

Don't think you can spare your child the effects of secondhand smoke by restricting your smoking to one room of your home. Air circulates, and smoke sticks to clothing, carpeting and fabrics, including drapes and bedspreads. Everyone who lives in or visits your house will breathe in your smoke. It takes more than three hours for 95 percent of the smoke from a single cigarette to clear a space.

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Help with quitting

Before you try to quit smoking and especially if you have tried to quit before, you may want to talk with your doctor about medications that can help you quit by easing withdrawal symptoms. There are several "nicotine-replacement" products, some of which are available without a prescription. There is also a prescription medication called bupropion (Zyban) that helps some people to quit. In addition to using medication, you may want to attend a smoking-cessation class or support group.

Here are some tips that have helped smokers become ex-smokers.

  • Set a quit date, and spread the news to family and friends to gain their support.
  • Exercise to improve your energy and avoid weight gain.
  • Drink lots of water. Avoid beverages, such as coffee and alcoholic drinks that you may associate with smoking.
  • Avoid smokers and environments where smoking is common, particularly for the first few weeks.
  • List your reasons for quitting, and repeat the reasons to yourself regularly.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try again! Most former smokers quit for a short time more than once before they successfully quit for good.

If you can't quit (yet), protect your children:

  • Smoke outside, and ask everyone, including visitors, to smoke outside.
  • Change your clothes as soon as you enter your home.
  • Never smoke in the car.

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Last updated February 17, 2011

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