Second-hand smoke can affect expecting mothers and children

by dr. Kishore Kumara

Many of us have adapted to the new normal and have been spending more time at home during the ongoing pandemic. In homes where someone smokes, this also means more exposure to tobacco smoke or e-cigarette “vapor”. And having an expectant mother, baby, or growing child at home can be especially damaging to a child’s developing lungs.

Secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke refers to the smoke when a smoker exhales and the smoke that comes from the ends of burning cigarettes, pipes, cigars and any other device that heats or burns tobacco. It contains many harmful chemicals and toxins and this toxic smoke that is exhaled is more dangerous. Residual smoke, often referred to as “third-hand smoke,” remains in a room long after a tobacco product has been used. It clings to clothing, furniture and carpets and is inhaled by children. Babies who crawl can also come into contact with chemicals in third-hand smoke through their skin. Pregnant mothers because of their increased demand for oxygen and blood supply + children because their immature lungs seem to be breathing in all the toxic gases. It is important to know that non-smokers who inhale secondhand smoke are affected by chemicals in the smoke.

In the world about 6,000,000 people would die each year as a result of secondhand smoke – (this is far more than our Covid-19 deaths) and a third of these are children, more smokers. Although Ireland was the first to ban smoking in the workplace, Australia led the way in their ad campaigns to discourage smoking with gory details on the cigarette packs to warn smokers of the dangers (cancer) and also with “ads” saying “Mom, Dad as you smoke, I smoke too” with children surrounded by secondhand smoke – a picture is worth a thousand words they say – that reduces smoking in pregnant parents as a whole.

In addition to home, exposure to secondhand smoke occurs anywhere a person could smoke. These places can be bars, cars, parties, recreation areas, restaurants and workplaces. Women who smoke have a harder time conceiving and have a higher risk of never getting pregnant, and smoking while pregnant or inhaling it can cause tissue damage in the unborn baby, particularly in the lungs and brain, and some studies suggest a link between smoking and cleft lip.

How does passive smoking affect an expectant mother?

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. If someone is regularly exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy, they are more likely to have a stillbirth, a low birth weight baby, a baby with birth defects and other pregnancy complications. A pregnant mother who smokes, in turn, causes harmful effects on the unborn babies – starting with stunted growth, increased risk of preterm birth, increased risk of cancer in the offspring, increased risk of behavioral problems and also increased risk of withdrawal syndrome. This is because nicotine diffuses into fetal blood, amniotic fluid and breast milk and negatively affects neurological development. Therefore, the fetuses and babies of mothers who smoke or are exposed to smoke are at high risk of ill health due to exposure to nicotine. Studies also suggest a link between tobacco and miscarriage. Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke can prevent the developing baby from getting enough oxygen.

Exposure to tobacco endangers children’s health gezondheid

Tobacco use affects the whole family. Smoking second-hand and third-hand makes children more prone to ear infections, respiratory infections and other illnesses. Exposure to tobacco also increases the risk of asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Smoking and vaping tobacco weakens the body’s natural ability to fight infection and increases the risk of lung and heart disease.

Effect on the family

Non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke have a 25-30 percent greater risk of heart disease and a higher risk of stroke. Also, exposure to smoke can aggravate pre-existing cases of high blood pressure. Adults can develop respiratory diseases such as asthma. If you already have asthma, the presence of tobacco smoke can make your symptoms worse. Passive smoking can even cause lung cancer in adults who do not smoke tobacco products directly. Living or working with someone who smokes can also increase your individual lung cancer rate.


Everyone knows that smoking is harmful to health. Normally there are always winning or losing arguments on most issues. But with smoking, there is no winning argument. We need to understand that smoking is bad for health, smoking is bad for wealth and smoking is bad for the family.

Do not go to places where you know people will smoke indoors.

Ask drivers not to smoke in the car or take other transportation.

Tell visiting smokers to smoke outside with the door closed behind them, make sure nearby windows are closed as well.

Do not allow anyone to smoke or vape in your home, even if children are not present.

If a family member smokes outside, they should change clothes and wash their hands thoroughly.

Families living in multi-family residences should contact their landlord or a building management association about enforcing smoke-free air laws in the building. Smoking is not allowed in the units and common areas.

We need to put more pressure on the government to make all public places smoke-free and completely ban the sale of cigarettes.

To remember – Try to stop. The best way to fully protect your family from tobacco exposure is to quit smoking. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it.

(The writer is founder, chairman and neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru and a health care graduate from Harvard Business School)

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