Don’t smoke around your kids, it damages their health – That’s the message that is buzzing around the media since Dr Steve Ryan, medical director of the UK’s Royal Liverpool Alder Hey Hospital for Children said that one third of the children treated at the hospital for respiratory problems such as chest infections and asthma got ill because their parents smoked when they were around.

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio Five Live, Ryan said that 2,000 of the 35,000 children that his hospital treated every year were there because of being exposed to their parents’ smoke. He said there would be a significant drop in the number of children with ear infections, bronchitis and asthma if their parents stopped smoking.

Ryan told the BBC that parents often lied about whether they smoked when their children were around because they felt guilty. He was not unsympathetic about the reasons:

“Looking after children is good fun but it can be stressful and for some, cigarettes are a way of relieving that stress.”

Ryan said children were exposed to several levels of risk. The highest risk comes from being exposed to passive smoke in a confined space such as being in a car or a room with a person who smokes. Mothers smoking posed a greater risk than fathers, said Ryan.

Even having smoke on your clothes was a risk, said Ryan, although not as high as actually smoking in front of children. He said that a good tip is to put another layer of clothes on when you smoke, that’s what the hospital staff have to do when they go outside to smoke during their breaks.

Ryan did not think more legislation was the answer to reduce children’s exposure to their parents’ smoke, but did think parents should know about the different levels of risk.

Radio Five Live went on to say that the British Lung Foundation estimates that 17,000 children under five years old are treated every year in the UK for illnesses resulting from being exposed to second hand smoke.

Last week a study to be published in the American Journal of Public Health was announced that suggested many parents all over the world ignored the risk that second hand smoke posed for children.

Researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, conducted a household study in 31 countries and found that 82 per cent of parents who smoked said they did so around their children.

Another study on nearly 150 babies, by professor Stephen S Hecht, Wallin Chair of Cancer Prevention at The Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, found that half the babies whose parents smoked had cancer-causing chemicals in their urine.

Hecht said: “The take home message is — Don’t smoke around your kids.”

A representative of ASH, the anti-smoking group told the BBC that parents should treat their homes like they now have to treat their workplaces and only smoke outside.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Martin Birchall was reported on the BBC website on Saturday as saying that:

“Passive smoking at home, exposing children to smoke they cannot escape from, increases the risk of them getting ear disease, sticky runny noses and sore throats, and further down the track, some of these ENT symptoms can in due course led on to worse diseases such as asthma.”

He said we need to “keep banging the drum” until the message is driven home. Every cigarette a parent smokes in front of his or her child is one the child also smokes, he said.

Click here for the full BBC News story.

Sources: BBC News, Press Association, MNT Archives.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD