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We all know smoking is a bad habit that not only affects the smoker, but also impacts innocent bystanders. But new studies are showing just how much the most innocent of all, our children, are impacted by smoking.

New research from the American Heart Association shows that secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to toddlers and obese children. And its negative effects are broader than previously believed.

There are certain markers of vascular injury (possibly a precursor to heart disease) that indicate an increased risk of heart attack. Obese children with exposure to secondhand smoke have significantly increased levels of these markers, indicating a likely increased risk for cardiovascular disease. This new study also showed that obese children had twice the levels of these markers than normal-weight children.

This increased risk is particularly disturbing because overweight and obese children are already at increased risk of heart disease. Exposure to secondhand smoke is just making a bad situation worse. And with one out of every three children in our country overweight and obese, exposure to secondhand smoke could lead to a significant number of heart attacks.

As a pediatrician, I have heard every excuse from smoking parents. “I never smoke around the kids.” “I wash my hands before touching my children after smoking.” “I go outside to smoke.”

But the unfortunate truth is that children are exposed to secondhand smoke in every one of the above situations. Smoke remnants remain on clothes and in hair and continue to be harmful. There is no way to fully eliminate all the toxins from smoking. Besides not smoking, of course.

I know that giving up smoking is not easy to do. Nicotine is addictive and smokers go into withdrawal when they quit. But there are so many options out there to help smokers. If you want to quit smoking, you can consider nicotine gum or a nicotine patch. You can also speak to your physician about certain medications that can help.

The bottom line is that your children’s health is at risk, particularly if they are overweight or obese. Don’t continue to make excuses or downplay the effect your smoking has on your kids. Exposure to secondhand smoke is more dangerous than we previously thought. The best way to ensure your child has a healthy future is to stop smoking today!

American Heart Association (2009, November 18). Secondhand smoke exposure worse for toddlers, obese children. ScienceDaily.

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