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Secondhand Smoke Causes Death and Sickness in Children

SIDS Poster

Babies are hurt by secondhand smoke.

Tobacco smoke harms babies before and after they are born. Unborn babies are hurt when their mothers smoke or if others smoke around their mothers. Babies also may breathe secondhand smoke after they are born. Because their bodies are developing, poisons in smoke hurt babies even more than adults. Babies under a year old are in the most danger.


Secondhand smoke is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Crib

The sudden, unexplained, unexpected death of an infant before age one year is known as SIDS. The exact way these deaths happen is still not known. We suspect it may be caused by changes in the brain or lungs that affect how a baby breathes. During pregnancy, many of the compounds in secondhand smoke change the way a baby’s brain develops. Mothers who smoke while pregnant are more likely to have their babies die of SIDS.

NewbornBabies who are around secondhand smoke, from their mother, their father, or anyone else, after they are born, are also more likely to die of SIDS than children who are not around secondhand smoke.

Studies show that babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lungs that do not develop in a normal way. Babies who breathe secondhand smoke after birth also have weaker lungs. These problems can continue as they grow older and even when they become adults.


Older children are in danger, too.

Studies show that older children whose parents smoke get sick more often. Like babies, their lungs grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke. They get more bronchitis and pneumonia. Wheezing and coughing are also more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke. Mask

Secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in a child. Children with asthma who are around secondhand smoke have worse asthma attacks and have attacks more often. More than 40 percent of children who go to the emergency room for asthma live with smokers. A severe asthma attack can put a child’s life in danger.

Ear infections are painful. Children whose parents smoke around them get more ear infections. They also have fluid in their ears more often and have more operations to put in ear tubes for drainage.

Information contained in this article has been taken directly from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Secondhand Smoke: What it Means to You. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 27, 2006.


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Go to the Smoking and Tobacco health topic.