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I recently went to one of the outdoor watch parties to cheer on the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was a smaller crowd than usual due to the frigid temperatures, but I stood and cheered with the other brave fans and families as I watched our team tie the first round series with Indiana. 

The one downside was the constant cigarette smoke that wafted our way from the nearby smokers who also were watching the game. Despite all the information we have about the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke, there still are too many people smoking in the presence of others, often including their own children. As the weather gets warmer, this only seems to get worse, since families find more outdoor activities and are exposed to more outdoor smokers.

There has been extensive research over the years showing that secondhand smoke is just as dangerous, if not worse than firsthand smoke. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that is exhaled by smokers and inhaled by people nearby. Smoke exposure in children leads to an increased risk of ear infections, respiratory infections including pneumonia, tooth decay and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in babies under 1 year old. It also can worsen the symptoms and severity of asthma. Over time, it can increase the risk of poor lung development, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. Children of smokers are also more likely to start smoking.

The best way to prevent smoke exposure in children is for their parents to quit smoking. This is easier said than done. If people are unable to quit, then they should be mindful of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Parents should refrain from smoking near their kids – or near anyone else. 

Smoking should always be done outside, even during the winter, and never in a car or van that transports children. The toxins can linger on clothing and other fabrics. This delayed exposure is called thirdhand smoke and is just as dangerous as firsthand or secondhand smoke exposure.  

It’s best to wear a “smoking jacket” outside and remove it right away when re-entering the house. In the summer when it’s too warm for a jacket, then parents should change clothes when coming back inside. People who often wear a designated jacket in the winter are not as compliant as the weather warms up.

Choosing to only smoke outside does not completely prevent tobacco exposure. Outdoors, smoke has been found to travel as far as 20 feet, so if parents are smoking outside with their kids nearby, then their kids become just as exposed to the smoke as they would indoors. 

Smokeless tobacco products such as vape or e-cigarettes also contain harmful chemicals and should not be used near children. Even if people don’t have children, they should be considerate of others that are nearby when they smoke. This can make for a healthier and more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma. 

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