New campaign warns of dangers of secondhand smoke

A campaign on secondhand smoke has been launched.
A campaign on secondhand smoke has been launched.
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New figures suggest at least one in 10 North East children are still being exposed to toxic secondhand smoke in the home as a hard-hitting new campaign launches today.

The Secondhand Smoke is Poison campaign is warning that smoking in the home exposes not just smokers, but children and adults to harmful levels of toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide, benzene and cyanide, which creep from room to room and can linger for up to five hours. The campaign was first launched by the Scottish Government in 2014.

Eighty-five per cent of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless but many people are not aware that steps like opening a window, smoking by the back door or smoking in another room does little to protect children and other non-smoking adults.

Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, raising the risks of more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and even meningitis and sudden infant death. Children are more vulnerable because they breathe faster than adults so inhale more of the poisons.

Among adults, studies have consistently shown exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke and, coronary heart disease (CHD) and lung cancer in non-smokers. Breathing secondhand smoke interferes with the normal functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that increase the risk of having a heart attack. Even brief exposure can damage the lining of blood vessels and cause blood platelets to become stickier.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: "When someone lights a cigarette they are setting fire to a cocktail of chemicals and industrial pollutants. These not only go into the lungs and around the body, but into the air as secondhand smoke.

"Every parent wants to protect their children. However, many smokers think they’re already doing enough by opening a window or smoking the back door, without realising how poisonous secondhand smoke spreads around the house and lingers long after you can see it or smell it.

"Smokers we have talked to felt this was important information that people needed to know, even if these facts are shocking. This isn’t about a person’s choice to smoke, but being clear that if they aren’t thinking about quitting, then taking it right outside is the best way to ensure they don't put their family's health at risk."

The Royal College of Physicians 2010 report, Passive Smoking and Children, estimated that secondhand smoke exposure in UK children each year caused over 20,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infection, 120,000 cases of middle ear disease, at least 22,000 new cases of wheeze and asthma, 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and 40 sudden infant deaths - one in five of all cot deaths.

Dr Mairi Woodsford, consultant paediatrician at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Breathing in second-hand smoke is harmful to people of all ages, but children are particularly vulnerable as their lungs are still developing. They breathe faster than adults, so inhale more of the harmful poisons, and there is no safe level of exposure.

"We see the effects of this on our hospital ward. Babies and children who breathe in smoke are more likely to have problems with asthma attacks and chest infections, and need more hospital care and doctors’ appointments. Most parents take it seriously when they realise that their smoking may be making their child unwell and they want to make positive changes."

The campaign website smokefreefamilies.co.uk gives people the facts, helping them understand how smoking indoors pollutes the air their family breathes, and how they can take simple steps to make their home and car smoke free, which can include switching to an electronic cigarette.