More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

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Many parents fail to set rules to limit children's exposure to tobacco smoke inside and outside the home, according to a new study
April 3, 2005
American Psychological Association

Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Has Been Found to be Particularly Harmful to Children's Health

WASHINGTON - Despite health warnings about the dangers of second-hand smoke, a large percentage of families have no rules that limit children's exposure to tobacco smoke. A study involving 1,770 parents and guardians in New York and New Jersey finds that in nearly half of homes and more than half of family cars, children are exposed to secondhand smoke. The research also finds that many parents consistently make no effort to protect their children from secondhand smoke in public places. The findings are published in the spring issue of Families, Systems & Health, a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Researchers Sara Pyle, M.A., and C. Keith Haddock, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and colleagues approached parents and guardians at 15 pediatric residency-training programs in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area who were waiting for their child's appointment with their pediatrician. The adults were asked to identify from a list of possible rules which family smoking restrictions were in place within their family. This included such rules as "Only adults can smoke," "Adults can smoke, but not around children" and "No smoking is allowed in my home." The researchers also inquired about tobacco exposure rules outside the home, including "Do not allow smoking in the car," "Ask people not to smoke in their presence," and "Usually sit in the no-smoking sections of restaurants."

Findings of the study are not encouraging for children's health, according to the authors. In 40 percent of homes and in more than 50 percent of family cars, children are exposed to tobacco smoke. Additionally, fewer than half of the parents/guardians consistently choose to sit in the smoke-free section of restaurants and trains, and less than half ask others not to smoke in the presence of their children. Families with low incomes and ethnic minorities were among the most likely not to have rules that limit children's exposure to secondhand smoke outside the home. Families with income over $41,000 per year were more likely to report having an entirely smoke-free home and to limit exposure outside the home.

Exposure to all this secondhand smoke "a Class A environmental carcinogen" is especially harmful to children, according to the World Health Organization. Higher incidence of lower respiratory tract infection (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) as well as middle ear diseases and worsening of asthma have been attributed to environmental tobacco smoke.

The results show the need for more public health efforts to ban smoking in public and other enclosed places, say the authors, in order to protect children form the effects of secondhand smoke.

Article: "Family Rules About Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke," Sara A. Pyle, MA, and C. Keith Haddock, PhD, University of Missouri - Kansas City, Norman Hymowitz, PhD, Joseph Schwab, MD, and Sarah Meshberg, BA, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School; Families, Systems & Health, Vol. 23, No. 1.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at (requires a PDF Reader).


I can attest that I am apparently in the minority of the people studied for this article. I grew up in a family of smokers. I was asthmatic and had chronic ear & respiratory infections as a child-- I also had problems after reaching adulthood, but they were primarily things that had been ignored as a child. They have since been treated and resolved-- I haven't had an ear infection in several years now-- thank god--they're painful! Anyway, I do believe that many health problems are hereditary. We are adamant about keeping our three asthmatic boys away from smoke, secondhand or otherwise. I have never smoked and even so, my second son was admitted for respiratory illness twice-- the doctors initially thought we smoked b/c he got so sick so often. Turns out he's asthmatic, as is our third son, and the eldest has been developing symptoms with colds/flus/ illness. We sit in the n/s section at restaraunts, I have my children wait aside if someone is smoking in line (at the fair, theater line, etc.)-- I will wait in line for them. I have asked people to not smoke or blow smoke at my kids before, like in a public place with not much room. I will complain in a restaraunt if we have to walk thru a smoking section to get to the n/s section-- that defeats the purpose. (I live in SC-- believe me we have some hicks here that have actually designed their seating arrangements like this-- what a crock!) I don't let ANYONE smoke in our home, even my parents-- they must go outside. No one is permitted to smoke in our cars, etc. On the otherhand, my niece is chronically ill with (preventable) respiratory/ear infections b/c her mother smokes like a chimney and refuses to restrict her daughter's exposure. Poor child is only four and just this year was admitted to the hospital emergently b/c her oxygen saturations were down in the 80's. Yet, her mother insisted on leaving her in the hospital room to go have a cigarette. In fact, I would consider behavior such as neglecting your child's health (like this-- the constant exposure, despite Dr's warmings) almost criminal. Her pediatrician specifically told the mom to stop exposing her to smoke. The child suffers from eczema, asthma, ear infections, chronic resp. infections, speech impediments, and In my "student nursing" opinion, a learning disability, which will probably be even more prominent upon entering kindergarten. It is a proven fact that cig. smoke is detrimental to one's health. To purposely expose children to this carcinogen is reprehensible, I feel. I would never risk my children's health because of my own addictions.--poohbear

Daniel E.
Dogs and cats are also susceptible to secondhand smoke, with small dogs more prone to bronchitis/COPD and cats more prone to asthma. Regarding lung cancer in pets:

Lung Tumors | VCA Animal Hospital

Certain breeds are particularly predisposed to developing pulmonary carcinomas, including Boxer Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Australian Shepherds, Irish Setters, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Persian Cats. As with people, exposure to cigarette smoke has also been linked to the development of lung tumors.

"Ask people not to smoke in their presence"

I have noticed some non-smokers are concerned about acting rude around smokers, even though people who provide you with secondhand smoke are arguably already acting rude with such behavior in the first place.

If you smoke, you should smoke alone and outdoors -- always. Smoking indoors increases the risk for or others getting your own secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
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Daniel E.
Dangers of Secondhand Smoke: Risks and Prevention

Studies have shown that damage from secondhand smoke occurs in as little as five minutes:

  • After five minutes: Arteries becomes less flexible, just like they do in a person who is smoking a cigarette.
  • After 20-30 minutes: Blood starts clotting, and fat deposits in blood vessels increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • After two hours: An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) can develop and trigger a heart attack or other serious cardiac problems.

Who is at greater risk of damage from secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke affects anyone near burned or exhaled tobacco, but some groups have more smoke exposure:

  • Service industry workers, such as restaurant servers and bartenders: Anyone who works near groups of smokers may be unable to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Pregnant women: Secondhand smoke affects unborn children and their mothers. Lower amounts of oxygen available for the baby can increase fetal heart rates or lower the birth weight. Women may experience miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or ectopic pregnancy.
  • Infants, children and pets: Young children and animals can’t always choose to leave a smoke-filled room. The constant exposure increases the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

If you are regularly near secondhand smoke, you can reduce the danger by:

  • Moving away from the smoker and finding a smoke-free place.
  • Making sure guests to your home know they cannot smoke inside.
  • Not letting passengers smoke in your car — even with the window down.

What if someone in my family smokes?

Often, secondhand smoke exposure happens because someone in the family or a close friend smokes tobacco products. If this is the case, suggest they quit smoking for their health and yours.
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