Children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke because their bodies are still developing. For children, exposure to secondhand smoke, also known as passive or involuntary smoking, can cause breathing problems, behavior problems or even death. The effects of second hand smoke on children can be reduced if parents create smoke-free homes and choose smoke-free schools and restaurants.
Secondhand smoke can harm babies during pregnancy. Pregnant women who were exposed to smoke are more likely to give birth to lower-weight or premature babies. If the mother smoked during pregnancy, she will likely produce less milk. The infant might be underfed if she breastfeeds. Secondhand smoke exposure might also be responsible for some birth defects, such as a cleft lip.
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Babies are much more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) if they are exposed to cigarette smoke. The risk of SIDS is high if the infant was exposed to second hand smoke before or after birth. Victims of SIDS are more likely to have nicotine and other poisons from cigarette smoke in their lungs than victims of other deaths. Nicotine is often present in the lungs even if the SIDS victim’s parents did not report smoking.
Asthma is one of the most common damaging effects of second hand smoke on children. Passive smoking can cause asthmatic children to experience attacks more frequently and more severely. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy have a much higher risk of developing asthma during the first five years of life than children born to nonsmoking mothers.
Infants with smoking parents are 50 percent more likely to be hospitalized because of respiratory infections. Pneumonia and bronchitis account for the majority of the infections linked to the effects of second hand smoke on children. Children who suffer from respiratory infections might exhibit breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and excessive phlegm.
Children who have been exposed to second hand smoke are more likely to suffer from serious middle ear infections. When the child inhales smoke, it irritates the tube that connects the nose to the middle ear. In turn, this causes excessive fluid, pain and infection. The infection can become so severe that it requires a surgically inserted drainage tube. Children can permanently lose their hearing because of passive smoking.
Some behavior problems have been attributed to being an effect of second hand smoke on children. For example, passive smoking children are more likely to suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Boys are more likely to suffer from aggression or depression if they were exposed to cigarette smoke early on. Secondhand smoke can even negatively impact a child’s intelligence and ability to learn in school.