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Secondhand Smoke Exposure In Children

What is secondhand smoke exposure?

Secondhand smoke exposure occurs when someone breathes in secondhand smoke (SHS). SHS comes from the end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe. SHS is also the smoke that is exhaled by someone who smokes a cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

What causes secondhand smoke exposure?

Children can be exposed to SHS any time they are in a place where someone is smoking. They also can be exposed in a place where someone has smoked in the past. This is because SHS particles (tiny fragments) can be found in the air and in dust. These particles can linger on household surfaces, such as counters, carpets, or walls. They also linger on clothes and skin and inside your car. SHS particles can move from room to room and from outside to inside. They can stay in your home for weeks or even months after smoking has occurred.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke exposure in children?

SHS contains thousands of chemicals. Any exposure to these chemicals has risks. Risks for children include:

  • Asthma: Your child may be at greater risk of developing asthma. If your child has asthma, his attacks may be worse. They also may occur more often.
  • Lung problems: Your child's lungs may not grow normally. Your child may have wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Your child also may have lung infections, such as bronchitis. These problems can lead to other lung problems when your child is an adult.
  • Ear infections: Your child may have more ear infections. He also may have fluid in his ears more often.
  • SIDS: Your infant is at greater risk of SIDS. This is when an infant suddenly dies for no known reason during his first year of life.
  • Cancer: Your child is at greater risk of lung cancer and certain childhood cancers, such as leukemia. He is also at greater risk of having cancer as an adult.

Is secondhand smoke exposure more dangerous for children than adults?

Children's bodies are still growing and are more likely to be harmed by SHS. Children breathe in more air than adults do. This means their bodies are exposed to more harmful chemicals from SHS. Small children also spend a lot of time indoors. They crawl on the floor and put objects in their mouths. These things may increase children's exposure to SHS.

How can secondhand smoke exposure be prevented?

  • Quit smoking: It is never too late to quit. This is the best way to protect your child from SHS. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting.
  • Do not smoke near your child: Do not smoke anywhere near your child. This includes your home or car. Your child is not protected from SHS if you smoke in just 1 room. He is also not protected if you smoke inside your house or car with the windows open. Do not allow family and friends to smoke near your child.
  • Do not allow your child to be in places that allow smoking: This includes restaurants and day care centers. Teach your child to avoid SHS.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Lung Association
    1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
    Washington , DC 20004
    Phone: 1- 202 - 785-3355
    Phone: 1- 800 - 548-8252
    Web Address:
    Phone: 1- 800 - 784-8669
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your child is coughing, wheezing, or sneezing more than normal.
  • Your child's asthma symptoms have gotten worse.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek immediate care or call 911 if:

  • Your child has shortness of breath.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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