EPA to Parents: Puff Outdoors
TUESDAY, Oct. 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- The nation's top environmental regulator has issued a challenge to parents who smoke: If you must light up, do it outside and give your kids' lungs a break.
Christie Whitman, who oversees the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites), today announced the Smoke-Free Home Pledge initiative to help children avoid second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke, which can spark asthma attacks and boost the risk of lung infections, certain cancers and a host of other health problems.
People who smoke inside their homes or anywhere around children should have two options, Whitman says: "Quit or take it outside."
The effort, which has backing from a number of medical, consumer and community groups, calls for a national media campaign, including television and print advertising to encourage parents who smoke to do so outdoors, as well as printed materials for families. The agency has also set up a toll-free line for parents to call and get information about the pledge.
"We're not telling them they have to stop smoking. We're just asking them to use a little common sense" and not smoke around their children, says Whitman, who adds that there is nothing illegal about not complying with the policy.
The announcement took place against the backdrop of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which treats a large number of child asthma cases.
An estimated 5 million American children suffer from asthma, which can be deadly if not treated adequately. Breathing trouble from the disorder causes 10 million missed days of school each year, officials say, along with thousands of doctors visits and high financial and emotional costs to families.
Exposure to tobacco smoke is an entirely preventable trigger for the condition, Whitman says.
Dr. Dana Best, a Children's Hospital pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which joined with the EPA to promote the pledge, says the growing lungs of young children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.
Studies have shown that childhood exposure to second-hand smoke, much of which comes at home, increases the risk not just of asthma but also of pneumonia and ear infections, Best says. Smoking during pregnancy is a leading cause of premature birth, and infants who breathe in smoke are at greater risk of sudden death.
Adults who were exposed to smoke as children appear to have a heightened risk of leukemia, lymphoma and impaired lung function, as well as heart disease and stroke, Best says. What's more, children whose parents smoke are more likely to grow up to become smokers themselves, upping their risk of deadly but avoidable ailments like heart attacks and lung cancer.
"The good news is that these are all preventable [illnesses]," Best says.
Dr. Martha White, research director at the Institute for Allergy and Asthma and a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which also supports the new initiative, says 40 percent of all kids under 5 -- 15 million of them -- live with a smoker.