Smoking and tobacco and children

Children and young people exposed to second-hand smoke are at greater risk of serious health and development problems. Find out what what these risks are and what you can do as a parent or carer to reduce them.

How smoking affects children

Children breathe faster than adults and inhale more chemicals when exposed to second-hand smoke. They are at greater risk of:

  • asthma – passive smoking increases both the risk of developing asthma and the symptoms of asthma
  • behavioural problems – these include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anti-social behaviour
  • middle ear infections – these can cause temporary hearing impairment and in severe cases the damage can be permanent
  • poor lung development – children's lungs are still developing and the increased levels of carbon monoxide from second-hand smoke aggravates allergies and increases the risk of respiratory illness
  • respiratory illness – bronchitis, croup, bronchiolitis and pneumonia are the most common causes of death in childhood worldwide
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – the risk of SIDS is double for children exposed to second-hand smoke
  • school absences – missing school through health issues can result in gaps in their learning.

Children of smoking parents may also have learning difficulties, slower growth and be shorter than children of parents who do not smoke. They are more likely to become smokers themselves, putting their long term health at risk.

What can I do as a parent or carer

The best thing you can do for your children is to quit smoking. This immediately reduces their exposure to second-hand smoke.

You can also:

  • make your house and car smoke-free areas
  • make sure anyone those who care for your children don't smoke round them – for example: nannies, babysitters, childcare staff, relatives
  • teach your children to stay away from second-hand smoke.
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