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Secondhand Smoke and Children's Health

Secondhand smoke contains toxic substances including more than 40 which can cause cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke because:

  • they breathe more air relative to body weight and as a result absorb more tobacco smoke toxins.
  • their immune systems are less protective.
  • they often can’t speak for themselves or their complaints are ignored by adults.
  • they often can’t leave when they are feeling the ill effects of breathing this health hazard.

Children should also be protected from thirdhand smoke - the smoke and toxins that settle in furniture, carpets, fabrics, and on surfaces and remain long after the smoking has stopped.

Health Problems in Children

Secondhand smoke has been lined with a number of health problems in children under 18, including:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Lower respiratory tract infections  such as croup and pneumonia
  • Acute middle ear infections
  • Reduced lung function
  • Tonsillitis
  • Increased asthma attacks and severity
  • Cancers and leukemia in childhood
  • Slower growth
  • Reduced oxygen flow to tissues
  • Impaired attention span and alertness (affecting learning)

Impact of Smoking and Secondhand Smoke on an Unborn Baby

In pregnancy smoking deprives an unborn baby/fetus of needed oxygen and other nutrients. This may result in:

  • Deficits in intellectual ability and behavioural problems
  • Low birth weigh
  • Spontaneous miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Reduced lung function in the baby
  • Complications in pregnancy

While it is known that exposure to someone else’s smoking can harm an expectant mother’s baby, the full effects are still unknown. As a result, Health Canada makes it clear the best chance for a healthy baby and healthy mother is a pregnancy where both are protected from exposure to any tobacco smoke.

This information has been adapted from Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

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