Effects of Tobacco on Children
Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure are leading causes of preventable death, and can harm a person at any stage of the lifespan- before birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood. Some of these health effects can last a lifetime, and parents and caregivers should know what the dangers are and how to avoid them.
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke among pregnant women contributes to low birth-weight babies, preterm delivery, perinatal deaths, colic, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Smoking during pregnany can cause other complications including ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which the fetus grows outside the uterus- typically, the fetus does not survive, and the mother's life is at risk; placentae previa, in which the placenta covers some or all of the cervix and can cause life-threatening bleeding and pre-term labor; and a placental abruption, which is when the placenta detaches from the uterus and can cause bleeding in the mother and fetal distress (ranging from increased heart rate to stillbirth) in the fetus. While these complications each have many causes, one thing each has in common is that they are all risks to the mother and child from tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.Resources
Secondhand smoke is among the most harmful and common environmental dangers to children. Almost 60% of children aged three through 11 years are exposed to secondhand smoke. These children are at increased risk for multiple serious health effects like asthma, respiratory infections, decreased lung growth and exercise tolerance, and sudden infant death syndrome. Smoking by parents or primary caregivers in the home is the primary source of exposure for preschoolers. This exposure is most dangerous for the youngest children because they spend more time in close proximity to parents and have immature lungs. Younger children are also at risk from their own behaviors- crawling on floors and carpets is an easy way to ingest dust and smoke particles, as is hand-to-mouth behaviors after touching a surface (walls, floors, furniture) that contains particulate matter from smoke. Parental smoking results in substantial annual direct medical expenditures and increases the chance that children will become smokers. Other effects may include childhood cancer, childhood leukemia, childhood lymphomas, and childhood brain tumors. Secondhand smoke disproportionately affects low-income and minority children and families. More information on the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke on child health can be found in the Surgeon General reports.
Read about the cardiovascular dangers caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Note that these effects apply to anyone exposed to secondhand smoke (not just children), but that the effects are worse in children, whose bodies are still developing.
Active tobacco use during childhood and adolescence produces significant health problems among young people, including tooth disease, damaged metabolism, frequent coughing, increased phlegm production, more severe respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness, and potential impaired lung growth and function. It is estimated that more than three million US adolescents are cigarette smokers and more than 2,000 children under the age of 18 start smoking each day. If these numbers stay the same, an estimated 6.4 million children will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease. Cigarette companies spend more than $15.1 billion annually (or $41 million daily) to promote cigarette smoking, with much of the marketing directly targeting children. Find more statistics on youth tobacco use through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System Web site.
Big Tobacco's Guinea Pigs: How an Unregulated Industry Experiments on America's Kids and Consumers
This report provides information on how the tobacco industry manipulates product design and uses health and other marketing claims to endanger the lives of youth and consumers in America.
For information on quitting tobacco use for teens, see the For Kids & Teens page.
Between 1/2 and 1/3 of youth who try a cigarette will go on to become daily smokers. Because of the highly addictive nature of nicotine, anti-smoking campaigns work hard to prevent teens from ever trying that first cigarette.
- The Truth® Campaign
The Truth® Campaign is the largest national youth-focused anti-tobacco education campaign ever. It is designed to engage teens by exposing Big Tobacco's marketing and manufacturing practices, as well as highlighting the toll of tobacco in relevant and innovative ways.
- Youth and Tobacco
This resource from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines the different ways youth are protected from tobacco under new federal laws. This infograph also helps put things into perspective.
For more information about these programs, see the below sites:
- Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights– Tobacco’s Dirty Tricks
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids– Big Surprise: Tobacco Company Prevention Campaigns Don’t Work; Maybe It’s Because They Are Not Supposed To
- Tobacco Industry Youth Prevention Programs: Protecting the Industry and Hurting Tobacco Control
For more information on preventing teen smoking, see the For Kids & Teens page.
Tips To Keep Children From Using Tobacco Products (adapted from Legacy)
- Be a role model for your children. Children of current and former smokers face an elevated risk of becoming a smoker.
- If you smoke, try to quit. Enlist your family's support. Seeing how difficult it is for you to quit may be enough to keep your kids from starting. At least designate your house and car as smoke-free zones.
- Be aware of smoking that children see in movies and on TV. Although tobacco companies are restricted from advertising directly to children, their multibillion-dollar marketing campaigns glamorize tobacco use.
- Tell your children about the side effects of smoking. Smoking damages athletic ability, causes wrinkles, stinky breath, and stained teeth, not to mention lung and heart diseases.
- If teens do start to smoke, encourage them to quit. By quitting, people can add years to their lives. It isn't easy, but every attempt should be considered a success.
- Think beyond cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, hookahs, e-cigarettes, clove cigarettes and candy-flavored tobacco products are addictive and can cause cancer and other health problems. Many have higher concentrations of nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar than do traditional cigarettes.