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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes...and Lungs  
Get reacquainted with the dangers of smoking and learn some tips on protecting your children from its effects.


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ImageWhen it comes to smoking in the United States, the times are indeed changing. Each passing year there are fewer and fewer locations where open smoking is permitted. Today, finding a smoke-free environment in which to have dinner or engage in other family activities is a much easier task. But even with states banning its use in public places and all the research and warnings pointing to its inherent dangers, smoking it is still a health issue many families must deal with every day. From secondhand smoke from family and friends to adolescent and teen smoking, the problem is far from being solved.

According to the American Lung Association, 44.5 million people or 20.9 percent of the adult population in the United States are current smokers. And many non-smokers are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified secondhand smoke involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers from other people's cigarettes as a known human (Group A) carcinogen responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. annually. The Surgeon General adds that secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic or carcinogenic including arsenic, ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and vinyl chloride.

ImageThe Surgeon General states that secondhand smoke has a significant impact on the health of infants and children including:

  • Mothers are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lower birth weight babies. Those babies are weaker and more susceptible to other health problems.
  • Babies whose mothers smoke or who are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant or are exposed to secondhand smoke have weaker lungs than other babies.
  • Both babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant and babies exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Infants and young children are more susceptible to the poisons in secondhand smoke because their young bodies are still developing.
  • Secondhand smoke causes acute lower respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) in infants and young children.
  • Secondhand smoke causes children with asthma to experience more frequent and more severe attacks.

Aside from the health effects of secondhand smoke, parents must also be aware of cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence. According to the American Lung Association, each day, nearly 6,000 children under the age of 18 will start smoking—a third of which (2,000) will be come regular smokers. This amounts to nearly 800,000 new adolescent smokers annually. Currently, the Lung Association estimates that there are at least 4.5 million adolescent cigarette smokers in the United States. What's a parent to do?

ImageThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following tips for parents to help keep children smoke-free:

  • Start talking about tobacco use when your children are five or six years old and continue to talk to them through their high school years. Many children start using tobacco by age eleven. Many are addicted to tobacco by age fourteen.
  • Know if you kids' friends use tobacco and talk with your kids about ways to refuse tobacco.
  • Speak directly to your children about the risks of tobacco use; let them know friends or relatives who suffer with or have died from tobacco-related illnesses; explain to them the effects on the lungs and heart; appeal to their sense of vanity by describing what smoking does to your appearance (making hair and clothing smell, staining teeth and fingernails, causing bad breath, etc.)
  • If you use tobacco, try to quit. If you can't, don't use tobacco in the presence of your children, don't leave it where they can easily get it, and don't offer it to them.
  • Talk with your kids about how tobacco is falsely glamorized in the media (movies, television, billboards, magazines, etc.)

If your child has already started smoking the CDC suggests avoiding threats and ultimatums in addressing the subject. Finding out the reason for smoking (acceptance by a peer group, desire for parental attention, stress) may provide keys to stopping the habit. Regardless of the source, cigarette smoke is a serious health concern. Decades of scientific research and surveys have given us a wealth of information and the danger signs are very clear. Protect your children from all forms of smoke and talk with them openly about the dangers of smoking. A solid foundation of information will be a great resource when your child is faced with the question, "Hey, want a cigarette?"

As with any aspect of your family's health, consult with your family physician concerning questions about smoking, secondhand smoke, or smoking cessation

American Lung Association—
US Department of Health and Human Services—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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