How do California Parents Think about Thirdhand Smoke Exposure Risks for their Children?

Thirdhand smoke research shows that children are more likely to be exposed to thirdhand smoke and to face health impacts from exposure. Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue left behind on surfaces after someone smokes. People – including children – can inhale, swallow, or absorb it through their skin. 

a parent holds their child's handsIt’s important that parents are aware of just how vulnerable children are to thirdhand smoke. But are they? Thirdhand Smoke Consortium researcher Dr. Rachael Record led a California-based study to find out.

“There are a lot of things that parents have to care about when it comes to the health of their kids,” Record said, “and thirdhand smoke needs to be included in those considerations.”

To see how parents think about thirdhand smoke, Record interviewed California parents of children of varying ages. She was especially interested in how the combination of children’s ages within a home influenced protection behaviors, such as preventing thirdhand smoke exposure and educating their children about tobacco risks. She found that parents of children 12 years or younger had stronger attitudes that thirdhand smoke was dangerous and took steps to protect their children. Parents of older children – even if they had younger children as well – had weaker attitudes. Overall, parents trying to manage the health needs of both younger and older children were the least protective of thirdhand smoke risks.a gray and orange post with a headshot of Dr. Record

“Parents have a lot to balance,” Record said. “And when kids are at entirely different developmental stages, it can be more difficult to prioritize all the little conversations and protective behaviors needed.”

But the good news, according to Record, is that parents might not be aware that regardless of age, the protective behaviors are the same: don’t allow your children to be in spaces, such as homes and cars, where smoking is allowed.  

One challenge for teenage children is balancing who talks with them about their health between parents, physicians, and other involved adults, such as teachers, Record said.

As children get older, they are exposed to health risks that come with growing up and becoming a teen. Parents may push thirdhand smoke concerns to the wayside while focusing on these other risks, Record speculated. One way to compensate for this is through the help of physicians, who can talk with teens during doctors’ appointments about the risks of thirdhand smoke and how to avoid it. information about a research study with images of babies, children, and adults

In addition, parents and physicians can offer resources to teenage children to learn more about thirdhand smoke on their own, such as reading or watching the resources available at thirdhandsmoke.org. They can also learn on social media from tobacco control organizations or others who have experienced thirdhand smoke. Providing resources offers children more autonomy in their well-being and can give them confidence to take care of themselves.

“Parents don’t have to sit their kids down and have the ‘thirdhand smoke talk,’” Record said. “There are a lot of credible and trusted resources available for teens to learn more about their exposure risks on their own.”

quote from Dr. RecordAnother challenge to protecting children from thirdhand smoke is that not all communities and families have the financial and social resources to avoid thirdhand smoke. Previous research suggests that thirdhand smoke disproportionally impacts low-income communities, which have to navigate some of the most serious health risks, Record explained. For example, families may not be able to afford to move from a home or apartment unit that is polluted with thirdhand smoke.

“We need to be considering how we can help those groups better,” Record said. One suggestion is continuing to encourage and support smokefree multiunit housing policies. By discouraging smoking, fewer people will smoke, making it easier for people to avoid thirdhand smoke.

Click here to read the research study.

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