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HealthInfo Canterbury

Protect your children from second-hand smoke

You know that smoking is bad for your health but have you thought about how smoking may affect your children?

Children with parents who smoke are much more likely to get sick, be admitted to hospital, and even die from cot death (now known as sudden unexpected death in infancy or SUDI). They are also a lot more likely to start smoking when they get older.

The Child Health Department at Christchurch Hospital asks parents of all children admitted to hospital if they smoke. It also provides information about how to quit smoking for those parents who want it.

How does smoking affect my children?

Father and childSecond-hand smoke is the smoke that comes out of a burning cigarette, and that a smoker breathes out. It has at least as many dangerous chemicals as the smoke a smoker breathes in. Breathing second-hand smoke is called passive smoking.

Passive smoking is particularly bad for children because they have small bodies, they breathe faster than adults, and their lungs and immune systems aren't as well developed. Children can breathe second-hand smoke in many places, such as at home, in the car, at other people's homes, or out in public.

Children of smokers are more likely to get:

They are also more likely to have learning difficulties and behaviour problems, be admitted to hospital, and have complications when they need to have an anaesthetic.

Babies can be exposed to second-hand smoke even before they are born, when their mother smokes while she is pregnant. This can make the baby grow slowly, increasing the risk of a low birth weight. Babies whose mothers smoked sometimes have ongoing lung and developmental problems during childhood.

What if I only smoke outside?

This is better than smoking inside, and it is an important step in recognising that your smoking is bad for your children. However, it can still affect your children.

When your children see you smoke, or know that you smoke, this affects their attitude to smoking. They are more likely to become smokers as they grow up.

Smoking in only one part of the house doesn't help, because the invisible gases from second-hand smoke can easily spread through the house.

Smoking in cars is much more dangerous to children than smoking indoors, because a car is a small enclosed space. Blowing your smoke out the car window does not help.

How can I quit smoking?

If you are keen to quit smoking, there is plenty of help available that is free or very low cost. You can contact Te Hā – Waitaha Stop Smoking Canterbury, the free stop-smoking provider in Canterbury on 0800‑425‑700. You can also talk to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist, or contact Quitline on 0800-778-778.

Thinking about your children's health, now and in the future, can motivate you to quit smoking and stay smokefree. However, quitting smoking is hard work and you might not succeed the first time. Don't get disheartened as you can learn something from every attempt. What you learn will eventually help you become smokefree

Making your home smokefree

Even if you cannot commit to quit smoking, you can help to protect your children by making your home and car smokefree. Get all smokers in the house to commit to this, remove all ashtrays and lighters from indoor areas and cars, and put "No Smoking" stickers around the house. Ask all guests to only smoke outside.

On the next page: Smoking in pregnancy

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated March 2017.

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