Second-Hand Smokeby Suzanne Gaby
Second-hand smoke is harmful, especially to young children. Parents, whether they are smokers or not, serve as role models for their children and can do a number of things to protect them. Quitting smoking and reducing a child’s exposure to second-hand smoke are the primary actions to take.
Children’s lungs are smaller which requires them to breathe faster. This means they take in more of the harmful chemicals from second-hand smoke. Also, a child’s immune system is not well developed so it is less able to protect them from second-hand smoke. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke have more frequent lower lung problems, coughs, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, croup and ear infections.Parental Modeling
Parents often hear that parental modeling has an impact on their children. One study showed that an adolescent is four times more likely to smoke when there is one significant person in their life who smokes.
Parental disapproval of smoking has an even greater impact. Adolescents are less likely to smoke if they perceive that their parents strongly disapprove of smoking. So whether you are a smoker or not it makes sense to talk to your children about your strong disapproval of smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. If you or others in your household smoke, there are ways to reduce the effect on your children. Smoke-free Homes
If you are a smoker, making your home smoke-free will require some thought around those more challenging situations like how to supervise young children while going outside to smoke, visitors that smoke and an adult family member who insists on smoking indoors.
Leaving young children unsupervised while going outside for a smoke is unsafe, but a healthy option is to make walks to the park a part of your daily routine. Time the walks to coincide with when you need to smoke. Or you can arrange for an older sibling or a neighbour to watch the children while you go outside to smoke. Sometimes the nicotine cravings come when you have limited options. The use of nicotine replacement gum, sugarfree mints, or drinking water can help to delay the cravings.
Regarding visitors who smoke, politely inform them before they come to your house that your family has decided to make the home a smoke-free environment. Place a non-smoking sign in your home that is in plain sight and remove all ashtrays from inside. Most reasonable people expect that homes are smoke-free so the likelihood that you have visitors lighting up a cigarette will be minimal.
Tougher than visitors who smoke are those adults in the household that insist on smoking in the home. It requires an open discussion about the need to protect the entire family from second-hand smoke. Recruiting the support of others in this discussion can make this less difficult. Rather than putting the smoker on the defensive it would be helpful to suggest that the entire family will do what they can to support the smoker with the needed changes. A less-than-ideal solution is to have them limit their smoking to one room that the children don’t use. This option does not fully protect the family from second-hand smoke but it helps.
Protecting your children from second-hand smoke when living in a multi-unit residence can be a challenge. If smoke is drifting into your unit from a neighbour your first line of defense is speaking directly with them about developing a plan that works for everybody. If need be, speak with the property management company or the strata council to find out what options are available. If smoke continues to drift into your unit you can seal and insulate cracks and gaps around pipes, vents, and doors so that smoke cannot get in (talk with your property manager prior to taking this action as it may limit the flow of fresh air).Smoke-Free Vehicle
Designating your vehicle as smoke-free can be quite difficult if you’re a smoker. Knowing that smoke in such a confined space can concentrate very quickly and that it clings to the upholstery might not be good enough reasons when you are desperate to have a smoke after dropping the children off at daycare as you drive to work. Why not leave home a few minutes early so that you can have a quick smoke prior to entering your workplace?Getting Help to Quit Smoking
Getting help to quit smoking has never been easier. The Ministry of Health’s Quit Now program offers a free 24/7 service by phone or web: 1-877-455-2233 or www.quitnow.ca
. A personalized quit plan is developed by you with the help of a trained quit specialist. They will give you written material that suits your particular situation. Nicotine Anonymous is a support group that is available in Victoria and Qualicum (www.nicotine-anonymous.org
or call 360-1450). Many employers provide cessation programs for their employees so check with your human resource department for details. There are medications that can increase a person’s chance of quitting smoking. Consult with your pharmacist or doctor for details.Accessing Information on Second-Hand Smoke
A number of resources can provide more information on second-hand smoke. For children, there are books available at the local libraries and health units that creatively convey the message that second-hand smoke is harmful. Some titles: Jimmie Boogie Learns About Smoking, The Berenstain Bear Scouts and the Sinister Smoke Ring, Where There’s Smoke, Smoking Stinks, Santa Quits, and Smoke Screen.
There are several good pamphlets including Smoke Free Places for Kids (available at health units or by calling 360-1450), Make Your Home and Car Smoke-Free: A Guide to Protecting Your Family from Second-Hand Smoke (available at www.gosmokefree.ca
), and Second-hand Smoke is No Bargain (available at www.silink.ca
Websites on second-hand smoke include:www.gosmokefree.cawww.cleanaircoalitionbc.com/ www.smoke-free.ca/www.bchealthguide.org/healthfiles/pdf/hfile30c.pdf
The evidence is mounting that says that second-hand smoke is harmful. Making our homes and vehicles smoke-free is one way to protect children from second-hand smoke. Careful planning can make even a tough situation a little easier. That includes the ultimate strategy in protecting children from second-hand smoke—quitting smoking.Suzanne Gaby is a Tobacco Reduction Public Health Nurse with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.