We live in a condominium with our two daughters, ages 15 months and 4 years.
I am concerned with the level of secondhand smoke we are receiving from our
neighbors. Frequently we notice our home smelling strongly of cigarette smoke.
We open windows, doors, turn on fans (not so convenient with the frigid spring
we are having) and I just would like to know if our kids are being exposed
to a risk since the smoke is entering through our filtration system and what
we might be able to do about it if they are, since asking our neighbors not
to smoke in their own home seems highly doubtful. Thanks.
Jennifer Moore -- Indianapolis, Indiana
DR. ALAN GREENE:
You are wise, Jennifer, to be concerned about the effects of secondhand smoke.
Many people think of passive smoke exposure as a minor issue, and that those
who are concerned are being a little extreme. The truth is that the inhalation
of secondhand smoke is a major health concern. By measuring blood levels of
cotinine (a breakdown product of nicotine), investigators have been able to
quantify the extent non-smokers inhale tobacco smoke. Cotinine levels in spouses
and children of smokers can even overlap the levels found in smokers themselves.
Nicotine isn't the only dangerous chemical found in the bodies of people exposed
to secondhand smoke. Disease-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons reach
their highest concentrations in sidestream smoke, and have a huge effect on
Exposure to secondhand smoke has been strongly linked with a higher incidence
of asthma, respiratory infections (including pneumonia), and ear infections
in children. Children exposed to passive smoke are hospitalized more frequently,
and have a higher chance of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Thankfully, there are ways to minimize the amount of secondhand smoke your
daughters inhale. Although not having active smoking in the same room greatly
reduces the amount of exposure, as long as you can smell the smoke you and
your daughters are being affected. Masking the odor with air fresheners does
nothing to help. In fact, the added chemicals may hurt. Plenty of real fresh
air is quite helpful, but as you mention, often impractical. The filtration
systems found in most buildings, unfortunately, are not sufficient.
Good filters are available. You can buy or rent a HEPA filter (a type of filter
that efficiently removes 99.97% of particles from the air). These are expensive,
but very effective (they also reduce allergy symptoms). The HEPA filter is
ideally placed in the rooms where people sleep. Less expensive, but quite helpful,
are houseplants. Plants take in the contaminated air and then release oxygen.
A former member of the Surgeon General's office (and expert on tobacco) has
also suggested a fresh coat of low-VOC or no-VOC paint. Tobacco residue clings
to the walls and surfaces. The combination of cleaning and painting can give
your condominium a fresh start.
Those parents who are reading this who do smoke can give an invaluable gift
to their children by stopping. I understand that tobacco can be a real addiction
and that stopping can be a monumental task. For all of us, minimizing our children's
exposure to smoke is well worth the effort and expense.
Alan Greene, M.D., earned a bachelor's degree from Princeton University
and graduated from medical school at University of California at San Francisco.
Upon completion of his pediatric residency program at Children's Hospital
Medical Center of Northern California in 1993, he served as Chief Resident.
During his Chief year, Dr. Greene passed the pediatric boards in the top
5% of the nation.
Dr. Greene entered primary care pediatrics in January 1993. He is on the
Clinical Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine where he sees
patients and teaches Residents. He serves as the Chief Medical Officer of
A.D.A.M., Inc., a leading provider of consumer health information, and helps
direct A.D.A.M.'s editorial process. As A.D.A.M.'s CMO, he served as a founding
member of Hi-Ethics (Health Internet Ethics) and helped URAC develop its
standards for eHealth accreditation. He is also the Founder & CEO of
DrGreene.com. Dr. Greene was also named Intel's Internet Health Hero for
children's health. He is an author, medical expert, and a media personality.
Dr. Greene is the author of Raising Baby Green (Wiley Books,
2007), From First Kicks to First Steps (McGraw-Hill, 2004), and The
Parent’s Complete Guide to Ear Infections (Avon Books, 1997). He
is also a co-author of The A.D.A.M. Illustrated Family Health Guide (A.D.A.M.,
Inc., 2004).Dr. Greene has appeared in numerous publications including the Wall
Street Journal, Parenting, Parent, Child, American Baby, Baby Talk, Working
Mother, Better Home's & Gardens, and Reader's Digest. He
also appears frequently on television and radio shows as a medical expert.
Review Date: 5/16/2007
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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