Environmental Tobacco Smoke (Child)

There are 2 types of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS):

  • Smoke that is breathed out by a smoker of cigarettes, cigars, or pipes (“secondhand smoke”)

  • Smoke that comes from the burning tip of a cigarette or cigar or from a pipe bowl (“side-stream smoke”)

    ETS contains more than 4,000 chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been proven to cause cancer and other serious health problems, especially for children.


ETS may cause symptoms such as:

  • Cough or stuffy nose

  • Sore throat or hoarseness

  • Eye irritation

  • Headache or dizziness

  • Fussiness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lack of energy

Diseases in children

  • When children breathe in tobacco smoke, they are at higher risk for health problems. Infants younger than 2 years old are at greatest risk. Health problems that may result from ETS exposure include:

    • Ear and sinus infections, hearing problems

    • Colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, croup, influenza, bronchiolitis

    • Asthma (exposure to only 10 cigarettes a day raises the chance of getting asthma)

    • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) for newborns exposed to ETS

  • In children who already have asthma, ETS increases the number and severity of asthma attacks and trips to the hospital.

  • Smoking during pregnancy doubles the risk of having a premature baby. It also doubles the risk of newborn complications. Nursing mothers pass some of the chemicals in ETS through breast milk to their infants.

  • ETS puts children at greater risk for getting health problems as adults, as well. These health problems include:

    • Lung cancer

    • Heart disease

    • Cataracts

What to do for your children

The more smokers there are in a home and the more they smoke, the worse the effects on your child. If you smoke, it is very important for the health of your child that you stop smoking. This can be hard to do alone. Find a stop-smoking class or talk to your healthcare provider for help.

If you can't stop smoking completely, then don't smoke inside your home. You should also adopt the following practices:

  • Never smoke while holding or feeding your baby.

  • Never smoke in a car with your child.

  • Do not leave your child with caretakers who smoke.

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