Passive Smoking & Its Effects on Children

We’ve all heard more than we care to about the dangers of smoking: cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease being the most prominent. But there’s now increasing attention to the effects of environmental tobacco exposure, both on adults and children.

Children are particularly vulnerable, due to their developing organs and immune systems.

It’s now been documented that childhood exposure to environmental tobacco smoke results in increased incidence of asthma and wheezing, SIDS, lower respiratory infections, ear infections and meningitis. For more information, see this link.

It’s also interesting to note that breastfed babies are at particular risk. They can be exposed to nicotine both from environmental exposure and also from the nicotine in their mothers’ milk. Despite this, studies have found that they are still at less risk than if they were formula fed because of the enormous protection human milk gives the baby. This has led the American Academy of Pediatrics, which previously viewed tobacco as a drug of abuse and therefore contraindicated, to now urge mothers to breastfeed their babies, even if they smoke.

What’s the final message? We still have a long way to go to protect our children from a wide variety of illnesses that are increased by passive smoke exposure. Breastfeeding adds protection, despite passive smoke exposure. In addition, this protection continues as long as the child is breastfed. So even if a mother is supplementing with formula or has added solids to a child’s diet, the child will continue to be protected from a large variety of illnesses, ranging from ear infections to meningitis.

This is an important message for expectant and new parents and presents an opportunity for them to quit, if not for their own benefit, then for the benefit of their children.

Dr. Nancy Brent is a former Kids Plus Provider.