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Second-hand Smoke And Babies – The Real Dangers!

Pregnant smokerIt’s interesting to see how society’s view on smoking has changed in the last 50 years. In the 1950s pregnant mothers who smoked were thought to be the norm, but now we know better. We also know that second-hand (and even third-hand) smoke can be harmful to the health of babies. However – is this just another scare tactic by non-smoking activists who want to have smoking banned totally or does second-hand smoke pose real health dangers to children and babies?

 

What is second-hand smoke?

The reality is that second-hand smoke is a toxic and deadly mixture and it’s made up of an assortment of poisons and carcinogens. The shocking fact is that there are more than 4000 chemical compounds found in second-hand smoke, with 200 of these compounds having been identified as poisonous and as many as 60 of the compounds have been recognised as carcinogens. A carcinogen is any substance that has been proven to cause cancer.

When a smoker draws on a cigarette, only half of the smoke that’s produced is inhaled, the balance of the smoke floats in the air and it’s this smoke that children and babies inhale (along with other non smokers in the room). The smoke that is released from a lit cigarette is known as sidestream smoke. The combination of sidestream smoke and mainstream smoke (this is a combination of the inhaled and exhaled smoke after a smoker puffs on a cigarette) forms second-hand smoke and this has also been termed as Environmental Tobacco Smoke or ETS.

 

Carcinogens and second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke or ETS has been categorized as a Group A carcinogen and the cancers that have been linked to passive smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke include lung cancer, cancer of the sinus cavities, cervical cancer and bladder cancer. Another alarming fact relating to passive smoking is that certain enzymes that are found in many tissues of the body only become carcinogenic once exposed to the chemicals that are present in cigarette smoke.

 

Babies exposed to second-hand smoke – the risks

  • Mother who smoke during pregnancy or when newborns are exposed to second-hand smoke are at a high risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
  • Babies who breathe in second-hand smoke are at a greater risk for developing asthma. Research into the risks of second-hand smoke exposure has shown that kids who have asthma have their condition worsened when exposed to passive smoking. What’s more, second-hand smoke may also be the main reason why millions of new cases of asthma are being reported every year.
  • Chronic respiratory symptoms such as coughing and wheezing have been attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • When babies are forced to inhale ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) a build up of fluid in middle ear results and this leads to middle ear infections. Paediatricians and doctors treat millions of middle ear infections annually.
  • Babies who have no choice by to breathe in toxic smoke are far more likely to suffer from eye and nose irritations, dental cavities and babies become irritable because of the poisons present in the smoke.

The facts surrounding the risks of exposure to second-hand smoke or ETS are clear and because the dangers are so high, parents need to protect their babies from exposure. A lot of these risks have only recently been identified and every year, new risks and dangers are added. Making sure that babies are not exposed to toxic second-hand smoke often means a lifestyle adjustment but as the saying goes -rather safe than sorry’.

 

How to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke

If you are pregnant, it’s important to avoid smoking areas. Studies have indicated that women who are exposed to second-hand smoke during their pregnancy are putting their unborn baby at risk. Women are at a greater chance of having underweight babies, and babies who may face several of the health problems mentioned above.

Apart from the dangers of second-hand smoke, third-hand smoke is another concern caused by smoking. Third-hand smoke is the contamination of an environment. These toxins take time to build up and each cigarette adds to the toxic build up. The problem with third-hand smoke is that it cannot be seen (whereas second-hand smoke can be) but it has the same serious effects. Third-hand smoke are the lethal gasses and toxins that cling to clothing and hair and which attach themselves to the fibres of carpets, furniture and curtains.

Due to the fact that babies’ brains are developing, they are more susceptible to high levels of toxins and with babies often being in closer proximity to the surfaces (when crawling or when playing on carpets) they absorb a lot more of these toxins. Owing to the high risks caused by passive smoking, pregnant women and parents are urged to implement the necessary precautions and keep clear of any areas where smoking occurs.

If you’re a smoker and are concerned about the effects that passive smoking will have on your child – ban smoking in your home. Use an outside area to smoke and do not smoke inside the house. Although toxins from the cigarette smoke cling onto clothing and hair, by not smoking indoors you are at least reducing the effects of passive smoking and making your home safer for your infant. Make your car a smoke free zone!

One of the best ways for parents not to expose their children to second-hand or even third-hand smoke is to quit! There are many resources and groups that will help individuals to kick the habit and when done, the worry that their children will be affected by passive smoke will be completely removed. If you’re serious about quitting, visit the Smokenders website, www.smokenders.co.za or the National Council Against Smoking www.againstsmoking.co.za

 

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