How to Protect Babies From Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke

Experts emphasize that parents need to do all they can to prevent environmental tobacco smoke exposure.

THE DANGERS OF PASSIVE exposure to tobacco smoke, when a person isn’t smoking but someone else is, are well-documented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the mid-1960s, an estimated 2.5 million nonsmokers have died as a result of health problems caused by secondhand smoke – which can range from lung cancer to heart disease.

More recently, data increasingly suggests that thirdhand smoke – residual nicotine and other toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke that collect on surfaces, from carpet, furniture and curtains to a person’s clothing – also pose a danger. Although the potential impact of thirdhand smoke is still being teased out, experts worry especially about those who cling most closely to surfaces: very young children, including babies and toddlers, who snuggle parents and crawl on the floor and frequently put their hands in their mouths. Residues from smoking like nicotine can remain on surfaces for weeks, months or years, and besides being accidentally ingested, can also be absorbed through the skin.

Taken together, experts say environmental exposures pose a serious risk for all but especially for young children in households where parents smoke. And there’s also concern about tobacco smoke exposure in places where smoking has occurred – like a residence a family just moved into – and when caretakers regularly encounter it outside the home, like at a smoky workplace, and bring it home with them on their clothes. Experts say no one, young or old, is immune to the dangers of passive exposure to tobacco smoke, and that parents should be especially careful around babies and toddlers.

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