With its long history of use both in ceremonies and recreation, tobacco is a plant that has been used in many societies for generations. Despite this, science has only recently clarified its adverse effects on the human body – and its harm even to those who aren’t directly smoking it.
Especially for children, whose bodies are still in the process of developing, further attention is urged. As young children cannot yet care for themselves, parents who smoke should take care as they bring up their children. In this post we’ll consider some of the key effects smoking can have on children, both in the short and long-term, and provide some tips for parents who smoke.
Why is tobacco smoke harmful?
While there are many toxic compounds within tobacco smoke, three key hazardous substances stand out: nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.
Tobacco’s origin is a plant, and tobacco leaves are processed to produce cigarettes and other tobacco products. Since the leaves themselves contain nicotine, non-nicotine “tobacco” does not exist. When cigarettes are lit with fire, they burn, and this produces harmful carbon monoxide and toxic tar. Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood and leads to a number of health disorders. Tar, on the other hand, is a nasty residue that is present in all tobacco products that burn. Tar is also carcinogenic. While cigarette tar is not the same as road tar, it can have a similar gooey consistency which, over time, coats not only smokers’ throats and their insides (destroying cilia and lung tissue in the process), but can persist in the environment as well.
When a smoker inhales cigarette smoke, they incorporate these poisonous substances into their body. For children who inhale smoke in an area, given their smaller body size and that their body is still developing, they are at greater risk for a number of illnesses.
Risk of children smoking cigarette smoke
Even if a child does not smoke cigarette smoke directly, passive smoking tends to have a serious negative impact on the human body. If a child’s parents are indoor smokers, they are effectively forcing their child to smoke together with them. When a child inhales sidestream smoke from an early age, the damage to the brain from carbon monoxide will increase, which will ultimately lead to a decline in various functions – cognitive and otherwise. As brain functions decline, adverse effects on the body begin to appear. For example, because growth hormone secreted from the brain becomes insufficient, it may interfere with the growth of the body and height may be stunted as a result.
In addition, sensitive portions of the body that come into direct contact with smoke – particularly the nose, throat, and lungs – are strongly affected by cigarette smoke. This can lead to a building up of tar and other particles, increasing risk of cancer and breathing disorders like asthma. In fact, being exposed to just 10 cigarettes a day may put children at risk of developing asthma, even if they’ve never had breathing issues before. In infants, the risk of sudden death increases as well, so extreme caution is necessary for smoking while raising a child.
What is third hand smoke – is it hazardous?
First-hand smoke is when a person directly inhales smoke by smoking a cigarette. Second-hand smoke is smoke that is inhaled after a smoker exhales. “Third-hand smoke” is a relatively new concept and research is still going on to clarify its effects on people.
If you walk around a smoker’s home, you will notice that the walls and other surfaces are yellowed in color and can be slightly sticky to the touch. Essentially, third-hand smoke is this smoke residue that builds up over years of smoking indoors – the smoke film that coats walls, TVs, furniture, toys and other things that we (and children) come into contact with daily. Although indoor air quality has been studied and direct effects of second-hand smoke are better known, what happens when a person over time touches tar-covered walls and then touches their mouth, for instance, is not yet fully understood, though it is suggested that children exposed to this buildup may develop breathing problems later on. One can imagine, however, that as tar contains many toxic compounds, surfaces coated with it likely do not have a positive effect on the body when breathed in or ingested.
How to prevent children’s exposure to tobacco smoke
Depending on your family, you may have taken measures like turning on a ventilator or fan, or saying that the smoker must go on the veranda to smoke, to try to avoid having your child inhale smoke. However, since cigarette smoke contains tar, even when using a ventilator, the tar adheres to the wall and sticks. Even when you go outdoors, a certain amount of tar will cling to your clothes. And that’s just the beginning: kids with parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves.
Since tar adheres to clothes and body as easily as it does to walls and objects, it is considered that cigarettes and children can not be separated completely as long as there are smokers in the household. The best way to prevent children from being affected by cigarettes is to stop smoking.
For many smokers, tobacco can have a relaxing effect, but we can not recommend it if we consider the health of other family members. When a child is on the way, it can be a good time to really reflect on priorities and more seriously consider ways to quit smoking for good.