Smoking's Effects on Pregnant Women & Children

Second-hand Smoking Affects on Others

The harmful health effects of smoking don’t just stop with the holder of the cigarette. People who live with those who smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, are also exposed to toxic chemicals, and are at a greater risk of a number of serious health issues, including heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. Among the most vulnerable groups of people to the effects of second-hand smoking are pregnant women and children. 

To make matters worse, second-hand smoke is odourless and invisible, with more than 7,000 irritants, toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) lingering in the home as a result. Tobacco smoke is able to infiltrate the air for up to 3 hours after a person has finished smoking, regardless of if the cigarette was lit in a separate closed room or with a window open. 

How are pregnant women affected by second-hand smoking?

Passive smoking not only impacts a pregnant woman’s individual health, but can also directly impact their baby in several alarming ways. Prolonged exposure to second-hand smoking while pregnant can increase the risk of a low birth weight, premature birth, and in some cases, birth defects, stillbirths or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs). Those who live with smokers are also at a higher chance of pregnancy complications, which can prove to be distressing for both mother and child.

Dangers of Smoking While Pregnant

What is third-hand smoke, and how does it affect pregnant women?

Third-hand smoke occurs overtime when dust, residue, and particulate matter from frequent second-hand smoking lands on nearby surfaces in the home. Third-hand smoke can attach itself to the likes of rugs, carpets, clothes, and even the skin and hair of both pets and humans. When pregnant women breathe in or touch surfaces with tobacco residue, they are at risk of ingesting toxins into their bloodstream which can then be fed to their baby. As there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco, pregnant women and the health of their unborn child are put at further risk by third-hand smoke in the home. 

What are the risks for pregnant women who smoke?

Women who choose to smoke while pregnant largely increase the risks for a number of health complications for both themselves and their unborn child. Toxic chemicals including carbon monoxide, tar, and nicotine can cause complications related to the placenta and fetal development, and can even raise the likelihood of a low birth weight, premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth. 

Expectant mothers who smoke also run the risk of their child developing several health issues further down the line, including problems relating to the ear, nose and throat, obesity, diabetes, as well as respiratory conditions. Other medical conditions that are linked with smoking include cleft palate, cleft lip, club foot, and congenital heart disease, which are all forms of birth defects. Smoking has also been associated with fertility issues, with both male and female smokers being twice as likely to encounter issues with conceiving a child compared to those who do not smoke.

Is vaping safe for pregnant women?

There isn’t enough evidence yet to claim that e-cigarettes are entirely safe for pregnant women, however there is supported evidence from PHE that states how vaping presents much lower health risks for both mother and child compared to smoking. Extensive research has further indicated that the risk of harm for pregnant women and children from second-hand vapour is again significantly lower than the smoke produced from traditional cigarettes.

How does second-hand smoke affect children?

Children who live with smokers are at a serious health risk from the carcinogenic chemicals which are produced from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke that is breathed out. With more than 7,000 toxic substances inside a single cigarette, second-hand smoke inside the home is to blame for numerous medical conditions in infants and children. It’s also common for older children to be influenced by their parents to take up smoking for themselves.

The Damaging Effects of Smoking on Children

Regular exposure to tobacco smoke can cause children to suffer from:

  • Wheezing, coughing and breathlessness 
  • Ear infections and middle ear disease 
  • Infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis 
  • Asthma (with more severe attacks for children who are already diagnosed)
  • Impaired lung function
  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

How does third-hand smoke affect children?

The destructive health effects of third-hand smoking remains the same for second-hand smoking. Infants and children whose parent(s) smoke will breathe in toxic chemicals when they crawl on floors, sit in tobacco tainted cars, or are held by others in the home. While invisible, third-hand smoke can settle on children’s clothes, bedsheets, and toys, all of which being items they regularly come into contact with. The chance of ingesting toxins is only made worse for infants who are teething and need to chew on their toys for relief.

How to prevent the risks of second and third-hand smoke to others

Smoking in different rooms, cleaning the home and opening up windows to ventilate the environment is unfortunately not enough to protect your loved ones from the ruinous effects of second and third-hand smoking. Logically, the only way to eliminate the detrimental health risks that are associated with passive smoking is to stop the habit once and for all. With support from healthcare professionals and cessation tools such as vaping devices, nicotine withdrawal can be achieved.