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World No Tobacco Day 2024: Harmful effects of passive smoking on children and fetal health

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
May 30, 2024 03:22 PM IST

World No Tobacco Day 2024: Effect of secondhand smoking during pregnancy and fetal health and harmful effects of passive smoking on children

Smoking poses a grave threat to the health and wellbeing of both the smoker and those in their immediate environment, especially young children as secondhand or passive smoke exposure can have devastating consequences for infants and toddlers, compromising their respiratory health and increasing their risk of life-threatening conditions. Ahead of World No Tobacco Day this Friday, May 31, 2024, health experts underscore the critical importance of quitting smoking in order to safeguard the wellness of children under one's care.

World No Tobacco Day 2024: Harmful effects of passive smoking on children and fetal health (Photo by Behance)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Tushar Parikh, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist at Motherhood Hospitals in Pune's Kharadi, explained, “Secondhand smoke takes a severe toll on the overall well-being of children who tend to live with or around smokers. Secondhand smoke consists of the smoke released from a cigarette and exhaled by a smoker. It contains dangerous chemicals that can be especially harmful to children, whose lungs are still developing. Even children whose parents smoke only outside are at risk, as the chemicals in secondhand smoke linger. Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke causes a variety of illnesses and can even be fatal for young, vulnerable lives. The best way to eliminate this exposure is to quit smoking entirely.”

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He revealed the effects of secondhand smoking during pregnancy and fetal health -

  1. Low Birth Weight Babies, Premature Birth and Stillbirth: Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy may have complications such as low birth weight babies, premature birth, and stillbirth. The babies will be extremely weak and susceptible to chronic infections. Passive smoking may also impact the cognitive development and overall well-being of the child.
  2. Growth Restriction in Babies: Smoking is known to disrupt blood flow to the placenta, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the fetus. This can cause growth restriction and developmental delays for the baby.
  3. Respiratory Issues: Secondhand smoke exposure can lead to an increased incidence of respiratory infections, asthma, and other lung-related issues in children.
  4. Ear Infections: Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at a higher risk of developing middle ear infections and related complications.

Dr Tushar Parikh highlighted the harmful effects of passive smoking on child health -

  1. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke from their mother, father, or anyone else in the family have a greater chance of dying from SIDS during the first year of life than children who are not around secondhand smoke.
  2. Weak Lungs: Babies who breathe secondhand smoke may have weaker and more sensitive lungs, leading to respiratory distress. These children can also have symptoms such as coughing, excess phlegm, wheezing, and breathlessness. Children whose parents smoke around them are more prone to bronchitis and pneumonia.
  3. Asthma and Bronchospasm: Passive smoking triggers asthma episodes in children and increases the incidence of childhood asthma, a chronic condition requiring the use of an inhaler. It can also cause bronchospasm, leading to restricted airflow to the lungs.
  4. Hyperactive Airway Disease: Passive smoking can cause asthma-like breathing problems without an official diagnosis, where the bronchial tubes swell, making it difficult for the child to breathe.
  5. Other Health Problems: Children exposed to secondhand smoke may also experience lung cancer, eye irritation, sore throat, cardiovascular disease, headaches, ear infections, and nose irritation, requiring timely intervention. Moreover, children may feel that smoking is acceptable and be more likely to take up the habit in the future if it is endorsed in their family.

Dr Tushar Parikh concluded, “It is imperative to quit smoking and keep the home smoke-free. Don’t allow any relatives or visitors to smoke at home. If you have nannies, babysitters, and daycare staff then ensure they don’t smoke. If you are going out with your baby or child, choose a Go smoke-free restaurant, it is a good idea to avoid visiting places that allow smoking. Educate your child regarding the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke to improve their quality of life.”

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