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 life- before birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood. Some health effects can last a lifetime. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be protected from tobacco smoke. Parents and caregivers should know what the dangers are and how to avoid them.
- In pregnant women, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke contributes to low birth-weight babies, preterm delivery, colic, stillbirth, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Smoking during pregnancy can also cause:
- Orofacial clefts (cleft lip, cleft palate) in the baby
- Placentae previa (the placenta covers some or all of the cervix, causing bleeding and pre-term labor)
- Placental abruption (placenta detaches from the uterus causing bleeding in the mother and anything from increased heartrate to stillbirth in the fetus)
- 2 in 5 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, including 7 in 10 black children
- Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of asthma, breathing problems, tooth decay, pneumonia, ear aches, sleep problems, and developmental delays
- Smoking by parents or caregivers in the home is the most common way young children are exposed to secondhand smoke
- Young 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 putting hands in mouth after touching a surface (walls, floors, furniture) where smoke has settled
- Multi-unit housing like apartments or condos is also a danger- when someone smokes in a nearby unit, nonsmokers are exposed to SHS- more than 1 in 3 nonsmokers living in rental housing are exposed to secondhand smoke
- Smoking in a different room, using fans, or smoking in front of an open window does not prevent secondhand smoke
How to Protect against Secondhand Smoke
- Do not allow smoking inside your home or car
- Do not allow smoking near you, your children, or your pets
- Ask anyone who cares for your child or pet to follow these rules- and tell them why
- E-cigarette vapor or aerosol also contains chemicals. Do not let anyone use e-cigarettes in your home, car, or near your child or pet
- The only way to completely protect against SHS is to quit. The AAP recommends talking to your child’s pediatrician about ways to keep your child healthy
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.Resources
Most teenagers are aware that tobacco use is a leading cause of death. However, this doesn’t stop them from trying tobacco products. Trying tobacco just one time puts them at risk for addiction to nicotine. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports actions to help prevent teens from using tobacco, including restricting advertising and raising the product prices and purchase age of tobacco products.
Health Concerns and Fast Facts
- Health problems caused by tobacco use include tooth decay, damaged metabolism, frequent coughing, increased phlegm, decreased physical fitness, and breathing problems
- 90% of daily tobacco users begin by age 18
- In 2014, 25% of high school students reported current use of a tobacco product, including 13% who reported current use of two or more tobacco products
- Types of tobacco products used by high school students in 2014 were: e-cigarettes-13%, hookah- 9%, cigarettes- 9%, cigars (including small cigars or cigarillos like Swisher Sweets or Black and Milds) -8%, smokeless tobacco- 6%, pipes- 2%, snus-2%, bidis- 1%, dissolvable tobacco- 1%
- Factors that can influence tobacco use are:
- Use of tobacco products by friends or family members
- Lack of parental support or involvement
- Accessibility, availability, and price of tobacco products
- Low levels of academic achievement
- Low self-esteem
- Exposure to tobacco advertising (including in movies, TV, or video games)
Tips To Keep Children From Using Tobacco Products
- 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. Sesignate your house and car as smoke-free zones.
- Be aware of smoking that children see in movies, video games, and on TV. The AAP recommends any movie, TV show, or video game showing tobacco use to be rated for adults only.
- Tell your children about the side effects of smoking. Smoking hurts athletic ability, causes wrinkles, stinky breath, stained teeth, and costs a lot of money.
- 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, hookah, e-cigarettes, and cloves are all addictive and can cause health problems. None are safe to use.
Warning: The tobacco industry often creates youth smoking prevention programs that they claim are designed to prevent children from becoming smokers. These programs have actually been found to be ineffective and to do more harm than good. Always look closely at a youth smoking prevention program or campaign and see who is behind it before introducing your children or students to the information. Programs for smoking prevention should be evidence-based and not have any industry oversight in educational content.
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