How Second Hand Smoke Impacts a Child’s Health for a Lifetime

Last Updated by Kate Spears on

Join us for this edition of the WCTE Get Ready To Learn radio show as host Cindy Putman is joined by special co-host Randy Todd, Tobacco Cessation Facilitator who is Tobacco Free/ALA Certified. They discuss the long term impact that second hand smoke has on a child’s health. 

Todd conducts weekly classes at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, located at 1 Medical Center Blvd. in Cookeville, Tennessee. He invites everyone to attend these classes, which take place on Thursday evenings in The Algood Room. Youth classes begin at 5 p.m. and the adult classes are at 6 p.m. To contact Todd directly for more information, he can be reached at 931-261-4305 or at

Kids and Smoking

Did you know that the overwhelming majority of today's daily smokers started smoking before they were 18 years old? Tobacco use during childhood and adolescence can not only cause major health problems, but also cause people who begin smoking at an early age to be more likely to develop a severe addiction.

Why Do Kids Start Smoking?

From having parents who smoke to experiencing peer pressure from friends, there are different reasons a young person might try smoking. Parents may want to get more familiar with why kids start to help keep them off tobacco. Click here to learn more.

How to Keep Kids from Smoking

Keeping children and teenagers from starting smoking is critical and they need the help of committed, concerned adults in their lives. Youth smoking can be prevented by the combined efforts of families, schools, communities and policymakers. For example:

  • Parents can set a positive example for their children by not smoking themselves, and keeping their homes smokefree.

  • Schools can provide tobacco prevention programs to educate students about the dangers of smoking and tobacco cessation programs to help young people who are already addicted quit smoking for good.

  • States can pass legislation to increase taxes on tobacco products, pass and implement comprehensive smokefree indoor air laws, and limit minors' access to tobacco products.

But it's not just kids who smoke who are at risk. Kids who are around adults who smoke may be exposed to dangerous secondhand smoke. Did you know secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals? Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A Few Things You Should Know about Secondhand Smoke

  • Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year. 

  • Between 1964 and 2014, 2.5 million people died from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General. The report also concluded that secondhand smoke is a definitive cause of stroke.

  • There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and even short-term exposure potentially can increase the risk of heart attacks.

  • Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia and hydrogen cyanide.

  • Secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks; even relatively brief exposure can trigger a heart attack, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine.

Secondhand Smoke and Children

  • Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to young children. Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year. It also causes 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. annually.

  • Secondhand smoke exposure may cause buildup of fluid in the middle ear, resulting in 790,000 doctor's office visits per year, as well as more than 202,000 asthma flare-ups among children each year.

  • More than 24 million, or about 37 percent of children in the U.S. have been exposed to secondhand smoke.

Click here to learn more about the health risks associated with secondhand smoke and kids. And if you are a smoker with kids, please don't expose them to secondhand smoke. 

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

The US Surgeon General has said, “Smoking cessation [stopping smoking] represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.” It’s hard to quit smoking, but you can do it. To have the best chance of quitting and staying a non-smoker, you need to know what you’re up against, what your options are, and where to go for help. You’ll find this information here.

Smoking is not a simple subject and there's no easy answer. Remember, tobacco addiction is both mental and physical. For most people, the best way to quit will be some combination of medicine, a method to change personal habits, and emotional support.

Check out these great PBS articles about how to talk to your child about tough subjects. 


Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM. 

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