Factsheets – Secondhand Smoke: What is it, and why is it so dangerous for children? (for Child Care Providers)

What is it?

Secondhand smoke is the combination of the smoke released from the

burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe, and the smoke exhaled by the

person who is smoking.

Why is it so dangerous?

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. These

chemicals include arsenic, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and

benzene – just to name a few. Overall, there are more than 60

chemicals found in secondhand smoke that are known to cause

cancer. And according to the 2006 Surgeon General’s report, there is

no such thing as a safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Breathing even a small amount of secondhand smoke is harmful to

your health.

Why is it particularly dangerous for children?

Because their bodies are still growing and developing, inhaling the

chemicals in secondhand smoke can be especially dangerous for

children. Breathing secondhand smoke slows a child’s lung growth

and greatly increases a child’s likelihood of developing ear infections,

more severe and frequent asthma attacks, allergies, bronchitis and

pneumonia. And infants exposed to secondhand smoke are more

likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Where are children breathing secondhand smoke?

Children are most often exposed to secondhand smoke inside their

own homes and cars. No matter where children are breathing smoke,

it’s always dangerous to their health, and children who live with

parents or others who smoke indoors are constantly being exposed to

dangerous chemicals. According to the Surgeon General’s Report,

almost three million children under the age of six in the United States

breathe secondhand smoke at home at least four days per week.

How can you help?

As a child care provider, you have daily contact with these children and

their parents. By choosing to communicate helpful and practical

information, you can be a spark that creates change and helps parents

take a step toward improving their child’s health.

Where You Come In:

Tips to Help You Make a Difference

Be child-focused.

The health of a child is the number one

motivating message you can share with parents.

Even when discussing a parent’s smoking

habits, center everything in your conversation

on the child. Make sure parents know that your

concern is for their son or daughter’s health is

your motivation for speaking with them.

Be confident.

Just in case you’re thinking that the subject of

secondhand smoke and children is the last thing

a parent wants to hear from you, take a look at

the following facts:

  • Only 18.7% of New Hampshire adults are


  • 58% of New Hampshire smokers try to quit

    every year.

  • Smokers who understand just how harmful

    secondhand smoke is are likely to take the

    steps necessary to protect their children.

  • Smokers who successfully develop the habit

    of smoking outside have been shown to be

    more likely to quit smoking.

Be a conversation starter.

Asking parents questions is often a great way to

approach the subject of secondhand smoke.

When asking questions, be sure to use

language that gets to the heart of the issue

without placing blame.

Be positive.

Make sure your message to parents is caring,

not attacking. Parents love their children more

than anything in the world and would probably

do just about anything to keep them safe and

healthy. Let them know you understand that.

Then focus on the good news that you can help

them create a healthier place for their children.

Be sensitive.

Realizing just how dangerous secondhand

smoke is to children can also make parents

realize that, through their smoking, they’ve

unwittingly harmed their children. Obviously,

this can be troubling for parents to hear. Always

approach this topic gently and remember to

continually center your conversation on a

shared concern for the wellbeing of the child.

Be understanding.

Quitting smoking isn’t an easy thing to do. And

for many parents, neither is stepping outside to

smoke. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that.

Remind parents your not asking them to quit

smoking; you are encouraging them to step

outside the home and car when they smoke.

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