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Children and secondhand smoke exposure; excerpts from The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke : a report of the Surgeon General
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  • Alternative Title:
    Health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Description:
    These excerpts from the 2006 Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, highlight the harmful effects of secondhand smoke exposure on children. The text and tables that follow are drawn directly from the report that was released previously by the Surgeon General . The report concluded that secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children. In addition, the report also concluded that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, lower respiratory infections, middle ear disease, more severe asthma, respiratory symptoms, and slowed lung growth. The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) has estimated that 430 infants die from sudden infant death syndrome in the United States every year as a result of secondhand smoke exposure. The same report also estimated that secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for 202,300 asthma episodes and 790,000 doctor appointments for U.S. children with ear infections annually. Children and teens are more heavily exposed to secondhand smoke than adults. Almost 60 percent of U.S. children aged 3 to 11 years, or almost 22 million children, are exposed to secondhand smoke. Because their respiratory, immune, and nervous systems are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of secondhand smoke. In addition, young children typically are exposed to secondhand smoke involuntarily and have limited options for avoiding exposure. They depend on their parents and on other adults to protect them. The home is the major setting where children are exposed to secondhand smoke. Children who live in homes where smoking is allowed have higher levels of cotinine, a biological marker for secondhand smoke exposure, than children who live in homes where smoking is not allowed. Almost one in four children aged 3 to 11 years lives in a household with at least one smoker, compared to only about 7 percent of nonsmoking adults. The dramatic strides that have been made over the past 20 years in reducing nonsmokers’ secondhand smoke exposure has to some extent left children behind. While increasing numbers of homes, including many homes where smokers live, are going smoke-free, the pace of progress in this setting has lagged behind the spread of smoke-free environments in workplaces and public places. It is ironic that the Americans who are at the greatest risk from secondhand smoke and who are least able to defend themselves are also the least protected and the most heavily exposed. It is high time that we address this disparity. We need to act now to ensure that all parents have the facts they need to make informed decisions to protect their families from this completely preventable health hazard.

    Suggested citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ch ldren and Secondhand Smoke Exposure. Excerpts from The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2007

    CDC-INFO Pub ID 998930

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