Despite health warnings about the dangers of second-hand smoke, a large percentage of families have no rules that limit children’s exposure to tobacco smoke. A study involving 1,770 parents and guardians in New York and New Jersey finds that in nearly half of homes and more than half of family cars, children are exposed to secondhand smoke.
The research also finds that many parents consistently make no effort to protect their children from secondhand smoke in public places. The findings are published in the spring issue of Families, Systems & Health, a journal published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Researchers Sara Pyle, M.A., and C. Keith Haddock, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and colleagues approached parents and guardians at 15 pediatric residency-training programs in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area who were waiting for their child’s appointment with their pediatrician. The adults were asked to identify from a list of possible rules which family smoking restrictions were in place within their family. This included such rules as “Only adults can smoke,” “Adults can smoke, but not around children,” and “No smoking is allowed in my home.” The researchers also inquired about tobacco exposure rules outside the home, including “Do not allow smoking in the car,” “Ask people not to smoke in their presence,” and “Usually sit in the no-smoking sections of restaurants.”
Findings of the study are not encouraging for children’s health, according to the authors. In 40 percent of homes and in more than 50 percent of family cars, children are exposed to tobacco smoke. Additionally, fewer than half of the parents/guardians consistently choose to sit in the smoke-free section of restaurants and trains, and less than half ask others not to smoke in the presence of their children. Families with low incomes and ethnic minorities were among the most likely not to have rules that limit children’s exposure to secondhand smoke outside the home. Families with income over $41,000 per year were more likely to report having an entirely smoke-free home and to limit exposure outside the home.
Exposure to all this secondhand smoke – a Class A environmental carcinogen – is especially harmful to children, according to the World Health Organization. Higher incidence of lower respiratory tract infection (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) as well as middle ear diseases and worsening of asthma have been attributed to environmental tobacco smoke.
The results show the need for more public health efforts to ban smoking in public and other enclosed places, say the authors, in order to protect children form the effects of secondhand smoke.