Adults who smoke may have noticed laws have been passed in recent years that limit who can smoke, when they can smoke and where they can smoke. These changes have led to an increase in people smoking in their homes, their cars and 25 feet from the entrance to a place of work. Increased smoking in homes and in cars is a concerning health issue – especially regarding children and their increased exposure to smoke – and new laws are coming into effect to address this. In fact, by the end of July 2018 all apartments owned by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) will be smoke-free, and the 2016 Virginia General Assembly passed a law that made it illegal to smoke in a car with a child present.
Secondhand smoke concerns
Why so much focus on smoking? The dangers of smoking are well-known. Smoking significantly increases the risk of cancer, heart disease and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and research has found that being around someone who is smoking (secondhand smoke) exposes us to similar dangers. Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for children because their lungs and other organs are still growing and developing. Children who are regularly exposed to smoke from parents or others experience a higher risk of ear infections, cough, colds and respiratory problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as tooth decay. In fact, if children are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular, long-term basis they can experience poor lung development, lung cancer, heart disease and cataracts.
Did you know there’s also a risk to children from what is described as thirdhand smoke? Thirdhand smoke is the residue from cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products that is left in the air and on objects in the environment after smoking. When cigarette smoke is blown into the air, it does not just disappear. It lingers in the air and sticks to the walls and our furniture, hair and clothing. It’s also absorbed into items such as window coverings, carpets and furniture. The residue can then release harmful chemicals back into the air long after smoking has stopped. Researchers at San Diego State University found that the “homes of former smokers had thirdhand smoke residue for up to six months after they stopped smoking!”
What about e-cigarettes and vape pens?
The tobacco industry has marketed e-cigarettes and vape pens as a safer alternative to cigarettes and cigars. However, these devices are filled with nicotine and other harmful chemicals that are then released into the air in much the same way they’re released into the air with traditional cigarettes. Vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products, and it exposes your children to harmful chemicals.
Smoking and childhood asthma
Asthma is the most common chronic lung disease in children and affects anywhere from 2 to 5 million children in the United States. Asthma is a condition that affects a person’s breathing. Inside the lungs are airways. In individuals with asthma, there is chronic swelling or inflammation inside the airways. As a result of the inflammation, some have frequent, even daily, symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty with exercise. Others with asthma only have these symptoms when exposure to certain triggers causes the muscle around the airway to tighten up and narrow. For children with asthma, smoke is especially dangerous. They can experience decreased lung function, more frequent asthma attacks (exacerbations), more severe symptoms and a decreased response to the medication used to control asthma (inhaled corticosteroids). They are more likely to need medical intervention from the emergency room or to be hospitalized during an asthma exacerbation. Some studies even suggest that children exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher than average risk of developing asthma.
Creating a smoke-free environment
With all of the dangers related to smoke exposure it makes sense that we try to keep our kids away from smoke as much as possible.
- Remove kids from areas where people are smoking and do not go to homes where people smoke.
- Make your home a smoke-free environment even when people come to visit. It’s important to understand that opening a window, sitting in a separate room or using air conditioning does not eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.
- Make your car a smoke-free environment and never smoke in the car even when your children aren’t there. Remember that particles of chemicals remain in the car seat covers and roof and settle on the dashboard. They will become airborne again and breathed in by your child.
What if you are a smoker?
- The best answer is to stop smoking. This is often easier said than done especially if smoking has been a part of your life for a number of years. There ARE supports available to help you stop smoking if you’re ready to try. Understand it might take more than one attempt to stop smoking. That’s OK. Keep trying.
- Get support from family and friends. Having a cheering section of folks who want you to succeed helps.
- Get help during nicotine withdrawal. Patches, gums, sprays and prescription medication may help. Consult your doctor for the best and safest options for you.
- Download a free stop smoking app on your cell phone. It will help you make a plan for quitting and stick to it.
- Visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for help and support.
The good news is that eliminating smoke exposure for ourselves and our children can improve lung health – and healthy lungs lead to more active and healthy lives.
By Kathleen Bowden, program administrator and social worker for the UCAN community asthma program
Do you think your child may have asthma? If your child has a cough that won’t quit or has trouble keeping up with their friends because they find it difficult to breathe, it could be a sign of asthma. If your child needed to go to the emergency room more than once in the past 12 months for trouble breathing, or has needed albuterol more than twice a week during the day or twice a month at night for coughing or wheezing then call us at (804) 628-8226. Our You Can Control Asthma Now Program (UCAN) is stepping in to meet the needs of children in our area with asthma. With medical care and focused patient education, children are able to gain control of asthma symptoms and live active, healthy lives.
UCAN is generously funded by Children’s Hospital Foundation and the the Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program.