Keep your child safe from tobacco-related harm.

Second-hand smoke is harmful

Your child looks up to you, he/she wants to be all that you are. This includes copying your habits - including smoking. Prevent your child from picking up smoking and keep him/her safe from second-hand smoke.

Every year, up to six million people in the world die as a result of tobacco-related diseases. That is one person in every six seconds! Five million people die from direct tobacco usage. More than six hundred thousand people who die are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Smoking is the main cause of preventable deaths, such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other cancers.

What is second-hand smoke?

Second-hand smoke (SHS), also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), is the combination of two forms of smoke from burning tobacco products: 

  • Mainstream smoke: This is inhaled by the smoker through the filter tip of a cigarette, and then exhaled. 

  • Sidestream smoke: This comes from the burning tip of the cigarette and goes directly into the air that we breathe.

Non-smokers who inhale SHS absorb nicotine and other compounds just as smokers do, and suffer the same health risks.

Why is second-hand smoke dangerous?

At least 400 chemicals in cigarette smoke are harmful to humans, and up to 60 chemicals are cancer-causing. A non-smoker’s lung cancer risk is increased by 25 per cent if he/she is exposed to SHS at home or at work.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults, and have little control over their indoor environments. Mothers who smoke expose their children to the greatest health risks.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

Infants and children exposed to second-hand smoke suffer from:

  • more severe and frequent asthma attacks

  • higher risk of ear and chest infections

  • higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), especially if women smoke during pregnancy. 

What is third-hand smoke?

Third-hand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. Third-hand smoke settles on surfaces such as sofas, curtains, carpets, walls, floors, and builds up over time. Airing out rooms, opening windows, turning on the air-conditioner - all these do not get rid of third-hand smoke.

Why is third-hand smoke harmful?

Young children are especially susceptible to third-hand smoke because they may breathe near, crawl, touch and lick contaminated surfaces. Third-hand smoke contains cancer-causing substances which is possibly a health hazard to children. 

What can you do if you smoke?

  • Quit smoking

    1. There is a variety of methods to quit smoking, and you can choose the method which is most suitable for your lifestyle. For more information, call QuitLine at 1800 438 2000. It would be good to also explain to your child why you are quitting and involve him/her in your journey to quit smoking.

    2. Modelling a smoke-free life
      There is evidence to show that parental smoking can result in children picking up smoking at an earlier age. The Student Health Survey 2009 conducted by HPB showed that 50 per cent of youth smokers had at least one parent who smoked.
      Similarly, a study by researchers at Dartmouth College revealed that children with parents who smoked were four times more likely to purchase cigarettes, as compared to children with non-smoker parents.

  • Do not smoke during your pregnancy. Do not smoke in the home if you are unable to totally stop smoking. 

How can you protect your child from the harmful effects of tobacco?

Talk to your child about the benefits of staying tobacco-free

Explain the facts such as how smoking is harmful, it is addictive, and the many benefits of being tobacco-free. Teach your child how to stand up to peer pressure if friends make fun of him/her for not smoking.

Make your home and vehicle smoke-free 

Make it a rule to disallow smoking in your home and vehicle. If you have guests who are smokers, request that they do not light up in your house. Some parents might not feel comfortable about doing this. However, many smokers know that their habit can harm others and if you ask politely, citing health reasons, they are less likely to take offence. Do not keep ashtrays or cigarettes in your home.

Stay away from second-hand Smoke 

Choose restaurants and public areas that prohibit smoking.

If you see smokers lighting up at places where smoking is prohibited, approach them and explain to them that they should not smoke here as it is designated as a no-smoking area by law. Inform them how smoking affects your child’s well-being — cite an example of health risk to the child, such as a higher risk of contracting coughs/colds. Remember, be polite at all times.

Parent-child activities: Get active!

With these games, you can help your child learn about the importance of a tobacco-free life.

Smoker’s lungs

Using pink cardboard or construction paper, cut out a set of lungs. Show them to your child and explain that this is what his/her lungs look like – pink and healthy. Give your child a sponge and some black paint to dab the paint over the paper lungs. Explain to your child that this is what a smoker’s lungs become as a result of tar, found in cigarette smoke, in the lung tissue. Explore with your child on how he/she can have healthy lungs. Discuss with your child what he/she can do to prevent his/her lungs from being damaged — for example, refrain from smoking, exercise regularly, avoid areas with tobacco smoke, encourage family members who smoke to quit.

Smells like smoke

Smokers tend to get more coughs and colds. Thus they have stuffy noses and cannot smell or taste well. Lay out an array of snacks for your child. Have your child taste one, and taste it again while pinching his/her nose. Explain to your child that this is why smokers cannot enjoy what they eat because smoking interferes with their sense of taste and smell.

Limited lungs

Give your child a skipping rope and a face mask. Help him/her put on the mask and skip 10 times. Then ask your child to remove the mask and skip another 10 times. Ask your child to contrast the experience of skipping with and without a mask — it should have been easier to skip without a mask. Use this experience to explain how smoking reduces one's stamina and causes breathing difficulty. Tell your child that over time, smokers can develop COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which is a non-reversible lung disease that results in breathing difficulty or lung cancer. 

What’s your choice? 

Download interesting anti-smoking advertisements and video clips from YouTube. View the advertisements or video clips together with your child and discuss what he/she has learnt.

Contributed by:
Health Promotion Board's Parent Hub