Pediatricians Can Help Reduce Children’s Exposure to Tobacco Smoke

Pediatricians know how important it is to protect children from exposure to toxic tobacco smoke by helping their family members quit smoking. Quitting is the best way to protect people from exposure to toxic second- and thirdhand smoke.

By: Katherine Greiner

January 18, 2021

Pediatricians are an incredible resource for any parent and can help keep children safe by talking with parents and caregivers about the dangerous things children could be exposed to. Tobacco is no exception; your child’s doctor should ask about their exposure to tobacco smoke, particularly if your child has a condition such as asthma. What you may not know is that your child’s doctor can also help you. Doctors can give you resources, counseling, or referral to resources that can help you quit smoking and reduce your child’s exposure to the dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke residue.

A group of researchers led by Dr. Blair Dickinson from Drexel University’s College of Medicine sent surveys to 249 doctors from hospital pediatrics departments to determine what they believe about the impact of tobacco smoke exposure and what they do for patients and their families about it in their practice. One of the researchers, Dr. Karen Wilson of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, spoke with us about their work. “When children come into the hospital and the parents are smokers, it’s a vulnerable and teachable moment for the parent. Having providers that are comfortable with addressing tobacco cessation in the inpatient setting is really important, to be able to engage with families during that admission, to help them start to come to the conclusion that they need to change their smoking habits.”

A total of 83 pediatricians responded to the survey. While virtually all of the doctors in the study were familiar with secondhand smoke, less than 75% were familiar with thirdhand smoke. Those who had more recently completed their training were more likely to be familiar with thirdhand smoke. After reviewing the definitions of second- and thirdhand smoke, nearly all agreed that both second- and thirdhand smoke were harmful to children’s health. Dr. Wilson continued, “We know that a significant minority of children are still exposed to tobacco smoke by somebody who either smokes in the home, or who smokes outside of the home. Some of our [other] research has demonstrated that even if you only smoke outside the home your child is still being exposed… Quitting smoking is the best thing that you can do for your own health and the health of your child.” For parents who use e-cigarettes, “It’s still really important to think about how you’re going to transition from the e-cigarettes either to an FDA approved medication or to using nothing at all, because the e-cigarette aerosol is not safe and we don’t want that to be impacting children as well.”

Pediatricians who participated in this study asked about tobacco smoke exposure more often than they provided counseling to support quitting, however they were more likely to counsel a caregiver to quit smoking if the child had been born prematurely, or had asthma or another respiratory disease. The overwhelming majority of pediatricians in this study indicated that they wanted to learn more about counseling for smoking cessation.

Dr. Wilson concludes, “As pediatricians, we want to help you do the best things for your health and for your child’s health. We don’t want to be judgmental. We know that tobacco smoking is a very complex, super addictive habit. It is tied up in how it’s been advertised and promoted and represented in the media, which makes it a very difficult thing to quit. Even if you can get over the physiological withdrawal, there’s still the psychological aspect. And we want people to recognize that their pediatricians are here for them, and we want to make sure that everybody is comfortable, at least with asking the questions and making sure people have a referral to the best treatment for them. And then also for parents to be able to ask their pediatricians for help and say ‘listen, I really want to quit smoking, this has been a challenge for me having my child in the hospital, what are the resources that you may have for me.’”


Click here to read the research study.

Note: Content was edited for style and length.

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