From a tender age I can recall pinning that bright red ribbon to my chest, my five-year-old ears yearning to catch every word of Officer Gill’s explanation of the dangers associated with smoking and tobacco use. I remember years of assemblies, programs, and demonstrations illustrating black gunk build-up and balloons never to be inflated again. These instances, along with countless words of warning from my mother, were quickly absorbed into my childhood mind leading me to conclude at a very young age: I would never smoke.
I was fortunate enough to be raised in a home where those around me also made the same decision that life was short enough already to have the urge to light up. With this cigarette-free environment, I believed I grew up far from the dangers and adverse health effects that result from cigarette smoke. Unfortunately, I could not have been more mistaken.
Recently, journalist Andrew M. Seaman highlighted a study conducted at University of California, San Francisco. A study that exposes an issue affecting the children in the Bay Area’s very own backyard: secondhand smoke. Using samples originally collected to determine lead levels in the blood of 496 children (ages one to four), researchers decided to use the remaining blood to test for cotinine- a chemical our bodies produce when exposed to nicotine. Over half (55%) of the samples tested had a detectable amount of cotinine found in the blood.
Is this concerning? Most concerned mothers would answer with an emphatic “Yes!”, but the most troublesome piece of information is that only 13% of the parents of these children claimed they were smokers. With some simple calculations, that means of the 496 samples tested, about 272 had measurable levels of exposure to cigarette smoke from the past three to four days – 64 coming from a non-smoking household. What does this mean?
It means just because we choose not to light up and our families choose not to light up, our children are still being affected. It is frustrating to acknowledge the limitations we have in effectively controlling our environment and how it is affecting our health. However, through active participation in educating our communities and leaders – change can and will occur. As a community of mothers, never underestimate the power of your influence. Through support of policy changes that continue to limit the public areas where people are allowed to smoke, exposure to our little ones will be reduced.
Aside from advocacy, other personal choices can be made to prevent little lungs from inhaling puffs of toxic fumes every time they take an outing with mom or dad. Avoid places where smoking has occurred. Even if there is no active smoker in the area, the smoke still permeates the air and will find its way into you and your child’s respiratory systems. Maybe next time you go visit that Great-Aunt Rosie or Grandpa Joe (no intentional usage of names) suggest making it an outside visit or have him or her come to your place. Support businesses that create smoking- free environments and choose to reside in non-smoking living facilities when making decisions on housing.
Most importantly if you are trying to kick the habit yourself, recognize the tremendous benefit you are doing not only for yourself and your family, but also to the children of your entire community. So from the many mothers who are striving to do what is best for their children, thank you in advance.