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Effects of secondhand smoke on children


Tobacco and humans have had a very long association. Archaeologists have found the use of tobacco since 1 BC in the Mayan civilisation. Humans have used it to smoke, chew, snuff, and for medicinal and religious purposes. By about 500 AD, tobacco use had spread to different places across America. Medicinally, tobacco was used as a cure for illnesses like asthma, ear pain, insect bites etc. By the 15th Century, with Columbus’s explorations, tobacco in the form of cigars, pipes and snuff spread across the world. Today, China, Russia, USA, Brazil and India are the largest tobacco users in the world.

Methods of tobacco use

Tobacco is used in various forms. As smoke, it is used in cigarettes, hookahs or water pipes, beedis or rolled tobacco, and chilam and chuta. In different countries, tobacco in chewable form is used as snuff, mawa, gutkha, kheni etc.
Extensive studies have been conducted, and many research papers have been published on the effects of smoking on the human body. Some of the illnesses caused by smoking are cancer, breathing problems, heart diseases, diabetes, dental problems, hearing loss, vision loss, fertility problems, osteoporosis and menopause. Despite several awareness programs and educational videos on tobacco’s harmful effects, many people still use it extensively. While some smoke as a symbol of authority, some feel that tobacco helps them concentrate on their work. In some countries, tobacco is used in toothpaste as well.

Secondhand smoke

Even if you do not smoke, breathing in someone else’s smoke too can be very harmful. Secondhand smoke, otherwise known as environmental tobacco smoke, is the smoke a smoker breathes out that comes from the end of burning cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Millions of children inhale secondhand smoke in their homes, apartments, public places like restaurants, motor vehicles and care centres. Secondhand smoking or passive smoking and its effect on children is an area that has attracted the attention of many researchers. Since children are in their growth phase, where their lungs and several other vital organs are developing, it is critical that they do not inhale tobacco smoke or any other harmful chemicals left behind by tobacco smoke during this time. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be protected from tobacco smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoking are at risk of various health issues such as asthma, pneumonia, issues in quality sleep, and growth or development issues. Many children carry such health issues through their childhood and into adulthood. Sometimes the effects of secondhand smoke can be deadly. Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS) than unexposed infants.

Second hand smoke contains about 6000 chemicals. Some of these are benzene, butane, toluene, cadmium, hydrogen cyanide, and ammonia. Many of these chemicals are dangerous and carcinogenic. In many homes where parents are smokers, they smoke in a particular room and ask their children to stay away, assuming their children are safe. But tobacco smoke lingers in the air and leaves harmful toxins on the linen, curtains and other surfaces to which children are exposed. The same applies in cars, restaurants or any other public spaces.

Air purifiers or air fresheners are particularly helpful in such environments. They clean up the air and free it from harm-causing chemicals and other pollutants, making it safe for children and adults. Air security devices are available in different brands, sizes and kinds. Therefore, it is important that we make a researched choice while we pick a product. They not only help to clean the air of harmful viruses, bacteria, fungus, dust etc. but also removes smoke and odour from the air. Such products are especially useful in closed environments like residences, offices and cars, keeping our children and us safe and healthy.

We can create a smoke-free environment to keep our next generation safe and healthy. Try and make our home smoke-free to start with. Make our car smoke-free. Remove our children from spaces where smoking is allowed, or people have smoked earlier. If your children go to daycare centres or after-school centres, then try and ensure their attendants do not smoke, or the centre discourages tobacco usage. Above all, providing a robust air security system is key to a healthy growth phase for every child.

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