Children and smoking, vaping and tobacco

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

What you need to know

Children’s bodies are still developing and this means they are at greater risk from health problems caused by second-hand smoke or e-cigarette vapour. The best way to protect them is to keep their surroundings as smoke- and vape-free as possible.

There is no safe amount to smoke or vape

There is no safe amount of smoking or vaping around children.

Just like with cigarettes, babies and infants exposed to vaping can inhale or ingest second-hand and third-hand vaping of harmful chemicals and toxins.

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.

How vaping affects children

Children can also breathe in nicotine and other harmful chemicals when people vape around them. Scientists are still learning about the risks to children exposed to second-hand vapour from e-cigarettes. These risks may include:

  • exposure to nicotine, other harmful chemicals, and metals
  • lung damage
  • respiratory issues such as shortness of breath and coughing
  • higher rates of asthma in adolescence.

As the contents of e-cigarettes can vary significantly, it is best to assume that second-hand vapour from every e-cigarette is harmful for children.

What you can do as a parent or carer

The best thing you can do for your children is to quit smoking and vaping. This immediately reduces their exposure to second-hand smoke and vapour from e-cigarettes.

Children are also less likely to smoke or vape if their primary role models (usually parents or carers) do not smoke or vape.

You can also:

  • make your house and car smoke- and vape-free areas
  • make sure people who care for your children don't smoke or vape around them – for example: relatives, babysitters, nannies, childcare staff
  • teach your children to stay away from second-hand smoke and vapour from e-cigarettes.

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