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.
- In pregnant women, smoking and exposure to SHS contributes to low birth-weight babies, preterm delivery, colic, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Smoking during pregnancy can also cause:
- ectopic pregnancy (the fetus grows outside the uterus, threatening the lives of the baby and mother)
- 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)
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.
- 2 in 5 children in the US are exposed to SHS, including 7 in 10 black children
- Children exposed to SHS are at risk of serious health effects like asthma, respiratory infections, decreased lung growth and exercise tolerance, tooth decay, pneumonia, ear aches, sleep problems, and developmental delays
- Smoking by parents or primary caregivers in the home is the primary source of exposure for young children
- 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 hand-to-mouth behaviors after touching a surface (walls, floors, furniture) that contains particulate matter from smoke
- Multi-unit housing like apartments or condos is also a danger- when someone smokes in an adjoining unit, nonsmokers are exposed to SHS- more than 1 in 3 nonsmokers living in rental housing are exposed to SHS
- Smoking in different rooms, using fans to blow the smoke, or smoking in front of an open window, does not prevent SHS
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 abide by these rules as well- and tell them why
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.Access a fact sheet on secondhand smoke
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.
Most teenagers are aware that tobacco use is a leading cause of death. However, this doesn’t stop them from trying tobacco products. Adolescents are uniquely susceptible to addiction, and trying tobacco just one time puts them at risk for addiction to nicotine. This fact sheet offers facts and tips for parents to help address teen tobacco use.
Health Concerns and Fast Facts
- Health problems caused by tobacco use include tooth decay, damaged metabolism, frequent coughing, increased phlegm production, severe respiratory illnesses, and impaired lung growth and function
- 90% of daily tobacco users begin by age 18
- In 2013, 23% 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 were: cigarettes- 13%, cigars (including small cigars or cigarillos like Swisher Sweets or Black and Milds) -12%, smokeless tobacco- 6%, hookah- 5%, e-cigarettes-5%, pipes- 4%, snus-2%, kreteks- 1%, bidis- 1%, dissolvable tobacco- 0.4%
- Factors that can influence tobacco use are:
- Low socioeconomic status
- Lack of skills to resist influences to tobacco use
- 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-image or self-esteem
- Exposure to tobacco advertising
- Aggressive behavior (e.g., fighting, carrying weapons)
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.
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