Effects of second-hand smoke on infants

Most pregnant women are aware of the negative effects of smoking on their unborn baby and quit smoking during pregnancy. Unfortunately, some are not aware that second-hand can also be very dangerous for infants. Some doctors argue that it can pose even greater risks as the baby inhales the smoke directly. Having the mother’s placenta as protection is an advantage for unborn babies. But frequent exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy is also extremely dangerous.

There are also social situations in which it is hard to avoid passive smokers. However, here is what to need to know about the effects of second-hand smoke on your child.

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Effects of second-hand smoke on infants

  • Greatly increases the risk of SIDS in infants. The risk can increase by more than 300%, especially if both parents are smokers. It was observed that babies take longer breathing pauses when exposed to cigarette smoke.  
  • Cigarette smoke contains cyanhydric acid, an actual poison that attacks the respiratory system, as well as the heart and brain. Exposure can lead to palpitations, breathing issues, asthma attacks, vomiting etc. There are hundreds of dangerous substances contained in cigarette smoke, many of which are known carcinogens.
  • Through the inflammation of the airway, exposure to second-hand smoke can also lead to allergic reactions. Some allergies can start to manifest as the child grows older.
  • Passive smoking can lead to an increase of bad cholesterol. This can affect the developing heart of an infant. The toxins present in cigarette smoke also cause heart rhythm abnormalities.
  • Brain development is also affected by second hand smoke. Nicotine can inhibit reflexes, create muscle problems, interfere with breathing regulation and more. Some infants are also at risk of developing ADHD (attention deficit disorder) due to passive smoking.
  • Respiratory infections are more common in infants exposed to cigarette smoke. The most common include bronchitis and pneumonia. In more serious cases, second hand smoke can cause respiratory failure in infants. Many children worldwide are rushed to the emergency room due to respiratory issues caused by cigarette smoke.
  • Middle ear infection is an affection that affects many infants who are exposed to cigarette smoke.
  • Addiction to nicotine is frequent in children that inhaled second hand smoke early on in life. The child might not even smoke at all and present withdrawal symptoms.
  • The infant can also become more irritable and have sleeping problems if parents smoke. Anxiety and depression can also manifest at some point during childhood.
  • The risk of cancer also increases considerably, especially lung cancer.


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As can be seen, second-hand smoke can create as many problems as smoking itself. The risks are higher for infants and children because they are more sensitive. Their bodies are developing fast. Early childhood sets the basis for future health. It can be much more harder to treat a chronic illness later on.

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This is why it is important for parents to make concious efforts to keep the child away from cigarette smoke. This includes not smoking in confined spaces (at home, in the car etc.), as well as staying away from places where smoking is permitted. Those who need to smoke should do so outside and away from the child.

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