Toxins in Family Home Coax Mom to Quit Smoking
March 5 â€” Margie Monahan has smoked since she was 15, but now that she is a mother of two, she's torn between the love of her kids and a powerful addiction she's tried to beat for 25 years.
"When you first light up, that anxiety or that craving is immediately cut," Monahan said. "It's a physical addiction. It's an addiction that becomes part of your being. I'm a smoker."
But she recently received concrete data about the levels of toxins in her suburban New Jersey home â€” toxins that confirm that her children are breathing in harmful secondhand smoke.
Researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital and Microecologies Inc. evaluated the level of toxins in the Monahan home and found that in less than one hour â€” and after Margie Monahan had smoked only two cigarettes â€” the number of dangerous particles in the air increased from 26 to 103.
That is four times what the girls were breathing before their mom lit up. Her 5-year-old daughter Skylar's urine was tested and it contained three times more nicotine byproducts than that of a child in a smoke-free home.
Faced with these findings, Monahan is determined to quit for the sake of her health and for the future of her family. She is trying a nicotine patch and an acupuncturist to help give up cigarettes.
Harmful to Developing Lungs
Statistics from the American Lung Association show that 15 million American children are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes, something children are particularly susceptible to because their lungs are still developing.
Pediatrician Phillip Landrigan, a professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that air quality is particularly crucial for children.
"Children breathe two or three times as much air per pound per day than you and I do," said Landrigan, who wrote Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World. "So they take in a lot more toxins into their body."
Studies show that 85 percent of a cigarette smoked at home lingers in the air, posing a long list of serious health threats to children. They're more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and asthma. Secondhand smoke may also contribute to sudden infant death syndrome.
"I think the scariest thing you can tell a parent is that if they smoke, they increase the risk of their child dying young," Landrigan said. "And they increase the child's chances of dying prematurely in adult life if the child becomes a smoker because the child imitates the parents."
Neither of the Monahan children have any health problems.
Even if Margie Monahan quit smoking tomorrow, there is time to improve her health.
"It is definitely not too late," Landrigan said. "Her own risk of heart disease will drop almost immediately; her own risk of lung cancer will diminish over the next few years and the risk to the children will diminish immediately."
Children Pressure Mom to Quit
When she got pregnant with her first child, Monahan tried to quit, but wasn't successful. "I cut myself down a tremendous amount, but I still did smoke during the pregnancies," she said.
Margie Monahan's husband Tim, a nonsmoker, has begged her to stop her pack-a-day cigarette habit. He's even enlisted the help of children.
"I said you smoke too much," Tim Monahan said. "She says 'you nag too much.' And so then I incorporated the kids."
He tells Caitlin, his 7-year-old daughter, "You know that smoking's bad. Go tell mommy. "
In fact, Caitlin does know all about cigarettes. "It's very bad," she said when asked.
Caitlin and 5-year-old Skylar worry about losing the people they love most in the world. Skylar says she doesn't like cigarettes "because I don't want me or my sister, or my mom or dad to die."
Inheriting Bad Habits
But many children do as you do, not as you say.
Adolescents who have two parents who smoke are one-third more likely to smoke themselves, especially girls. Boys are more likely to smoke as a result of peer pressure but the biggest predictor for girls is whether their parents smoke, according to Ann Pleshette Murphy, Good Morning America's parenting contributor.
Margie Monahan knows these statistics all too well. Both her parents smoked and died in their 60s. Her father died from emphysema.
"He was sick for many years and I saw him on oxygen, and he was pretty much bedridden the last couple of years of his life and I saw what it did," she said. "You know and it was a horrible death. It really was."
Margie tries not to smoke around the children to protect them from secondhand smoke.
"But she'll be smoking in the kitchen and they'll come running in and say, 'mommy mommy. Need to see you right away.'" Her husband, Tim said. "And we do the best we can."