Second-hand smoke: Should parents of children with asthma be concerned?

January 22, 2009 |

Comments (1)

Yes, parents of children who have asthma should be very concerned about second-hand smoke.  Every year, between 12,000 and 15,000 children suffer from asthma because of exposure to second-hand smoke in homes, cars, and hotels or motels. (source).  Second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard and there is no safe level of exposure to it. Photo: Turky Al-Fassam. Used with permission. (CC Attribution license)

What is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is a combination of mainstream smoke (smoke exhaled from a smoker) and sidestream smoke (smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe). (source).  What is surprising to many people, is that second-hand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer (source).

How second-hand smoke affects children with asthma

In general, children are more affected by second-hand smoke because their lungs and immune systems are still developing.  When a child lives in a home where even one person is a smoker, he or she has more respiratory problems and infections that often last longer and are more severe.  The more people there are who smoke in a particular home, the more severe are the respiratory problems for the child living there. 

For children with asthma, second-hand smoke is very dangerous.  It affects the muscles around the airways, causing difficulty in breathing. (source).  These children experience:

In fact, any children living in households with smokers are at risk for: 

So never forget that second-hand smoke is dangerous, especially for children with asthma.  You should be concerned.

Glynis Sheppard for Consumer Health Information Service, Toronto Public Library

Further reading

Toronto Public Library. Consumer Health Information Service. Asthma wiki

Ontario Lung Association.

Canadian Lung Association. Smoking & tobacco.

Mayo Clinic. Secondhand smoke: Avoid dangers in the air you breathe. (March 8, 2008)  

British Columbia. BC Health Files: The harmful effects of second-hand smoke (August 2005)  

Canadian Cancer Society.

The Hospital for Sick Children. Tobacco smoke and children with asthma. (reviewed June 21, 2004)  

Health Canada.

Peel Public Health. Secondhand smoke… Is it dangerous? (July 2007)  

Toronto Public Health. How does the smoke know where to stop? (undated)  

Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada. Cigarette smoke & kids’ health (revised January 6, 2008)  

Grey Bruce Public Health Unit. Second-hand smoke – It’s a chemical soup (undated)  

Nemours Foundation (U.S.). KidsHealth: Smoking and asthma (reviewed June 2007)  

American Cancer Society. Secondhand smoke (reviewed October 15, 2008)  

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Asthma: Secondhand smoke (updated February 19, 2008)