The Impact of 2nd and 3rd Hand Smoke on Children

By: Shelli Samson, NI, Penfield Children’s Center

By now, we’ve all heard about the dangers of smoking. In addition to tooth decay, lung cancer and COPD, smoking causes pneumonia, emphysema and a wealth of other diseases.  For children breathing in this smoke, the effects can be very harmful. According to, secondhand smoke (the smoke that comes from a smoker) contains 4,000 chemicals and more than 50 of them are known to cause cancer. Children are exposed to these chemicals when they breathe in this smoke.

Another, less talked about hazard to children is thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is the smoke that clings to walls, carpeting, clothing and other materials that come in contact with smoke. In fact, thirdhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals that are harmful to those who inhale it. Small children and babies are often most at risk for harm from thirdhand smoke because they spend a lot of time crawling on the floor and/or being held by caregivers, who, if they do smoke, can pass the chemicals to the children.

What steps can we as caregivers take to reduce a child’s exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke?

  • Do you smoke? If you do, make it a goal to quit. If you need help, talk to your doctor about which support groups, cessation aids and other resources are available.
  • Be an advocate for your family’s health. Do not allow others to smoke in your home or car. Even e-cigarettes contain chemicals, so it’s a good idea to ban smoking of any kind.
  • Before hiring a caregiver or enrolling your child in daycare, make sure to ask about the use of tobacco products and/or the smoking policy. Are caregivers allowed to smoke outside? While he/she might be physically outside of the building, smoke can easily cling to his/her clothing and all children who come into contact with that caregiver will inhale the smoke.
  • Only choose smoke-free restaurants. Even if they have a non-smoking room or no one is smoking in the vicinity, chemicals from smoke can still linger on the surfaces of tables and chairs.

How can smoke affect my child?

  • If exposed to smoke, babies have a higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
  • Children who breathe in secondhand smoke have more respiratory issues, ear infections and tooth decay.
  • If a child has asthma, exposure to smoke increases the severity of asthma attacks.

Unfortunately, secondhand and thirdhand smoke can also produce harmful, long-term side-effects for children. This type of smoke can hinder healthy lung development and cause heart disease and lung cancer. Children who have parents who smoke are also more likely to become smokers themselves.

Since no amount of cigarette smoke is healthy for children, it’s important to eliminate your child’s exposure as much as possible.

What steps have you taken to keep your children safe from secondhand and thirdhand smoke?


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