December 31, 2011
Children feeling the effects of 2nd-hand smoke
By James Neal, Staff Writer Enid News and Eagle
ENID — In years past it was common for tobacco smoke to fill the air of restaurants, places of business and most public spaces. As recently as 1991, 88 percent of American non-smokers experienced measurable exposure to second-hand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Today, smoking is banned in most businesses and public venues, but health officials still are seeing new cases of ailments attributed to second-hand smoke exposure, especially among children.
Andy Ward, a local nurse practitioner, said it is all too common to see young children suffering respiratory and other ailments directly linked to family members’ smoking.
“I see it every day,” he said. “Smoking and obesity are the two biggest problems facing health care in our state today, and I see second-hand smoke as an issue I need to address every time it comes in.”
According to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), long-term exposure to second-hand smoke can cause a variety of health problems, including heart disease, nasal sinus cancer, respiratory infections, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The CDC estimates second-hand smoke causes 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among American non-smokers each year.
As restrictions on smoking in public places tighten, the statistics on second-hand smoke ailments are shifting toward children, who often are unable to control their environment.
In addition to the long-term effects of second-hand smoke exposure, the CDC lists a number of ailments that can affect children after relatively short periods of exposure to second-hand smoke. Those effects include: ear infections; more frequent and severe asthma attacks; respiratory symptoms, including coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath; respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia; and a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Despite the risks, the CDC estimates nearly 54 percent of young children are exposed to second-hand smoke on a regular basis, and more than 18 percent of American children live with an adult who smokes inside the home.
Andy Ward regularly sees two to four cases each week of children whose illnesses can be attributed to second-hand smoke exposure.
“Second-hand smoke exposure is one of the bigger factors affecting kids coming in with recurring respiratory infections and ear infections,” he said. “You see less incidence of it today than in the past but it’s continuing. We’re still seeing new cases come in and probably always will, unless something drastic changes.”
He said the best way to avoid the risks of second-hand smoke is to not be around people while they’re smoking, but that’s not always an option for kids.
“We’d recommend they just cut their exposure as much as possible, but that’s hard when the smoker is a family member living in the household. And for kids, they usually don’t have a choice about who’s smoking around them if it’s a family member.”
He, like other health professionals, discusses the risks of smoking and second-hand smoke with tobacco users, but the information isn’t always well-received.
“I think you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t address it with them, and even if they don’t accept what you’re telling them, you’ve still planted the seed,” he said. “And, that seed may not go anywhere, but all you can do is give them the information.”
Despite the abundance of information regarding the risks of second-hand smoke exposure, Andy Ward said there still are many smokers who refuse to believe it poses a threat to their loved ones.
“I have guys who will come in, sit right here and say ‘There’s no problem with my smoking at all,’ or ‘My dad smoked around me all the time and I turned out all right,’ so there’s definitely still some resistance out there,” he said.
He attributed that reluctance to the power nicotine holds over its users.
“When nicotine gets its hooks into you, it’s an incredibly powerful drug, probably as powerful as cocaine, and sometimes you don’t care how or who you’re affecting or why ... you’re just satisfying that addiction,” Andy Ward said.
As a former smoker, he has first-hand experience with the power of nicotine, the struggle to quit smoking, and the fact that, ultimately, you can free yourself from nicotine addiction.
“I used to smoke, so I know how hard it is to quit,” he said, “but I can also look people in the eye and say ‘I know it’s possible to quit.’”
Kelly Ward, a respiratory therapist at Integris Bass Baptist Health Center, also said nicotine addiction can lead adults to ignore the health effects of smoking and second-hand smoke.
“I think most people know already ... people aren’t stupid, but nicotine is an incredibly powerful drug,” she said. “Sometimes you can get through to people with the information if you present it in the right way, but I think most people know already.”
What many smokers don’t know, she said, is they can cause health problems in children under their care even if they don’t smoke in their presence.
She said third-hand smoke, smoke and chemicals transferred through contact with a smoker’s clothing, skin or hair, or by a smoker breathing on a child, poses a real threat to young kids.
“You’re inhaling that smoke, it gets into the pores of your skin and you sweat it out, it’s in your hair and clothing, and when you pick up a child or just hold them close, they can absorb that or inhale it,” she said. “People get exposure to tobacco smoke that way also, especially young children who are being picked up and held by smokers.”
Kelly Ward said young children and people suffering from breathing ailments such as COPD particularly are susceptible to third-hand smoke.
“Kids’ airways aren’t fully developed until they’re 4 or 5 years old, so it definitely can affect them,” she said.
And, for people suffering from COPD or other chronic respiratory ailments, simply sitting near someone who smokes heavily or who has smoked recently can exacerbate symptoms.
Kelly Ward said the best thing a smoker can do for their own health, and the health of those around them, is to quit smoking.
“You’ve got to be willing to quit, you have to want to quit, and you have to surround yourself with people who have the same goals you do,” she said.
For those ready and willing to kick the tobacco habit, Kelly Ward said the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, 800-QUIT-NOW, is an “excellent resource,” with “about a 50 percent success rate.”
“People just need to know there’s help available,” she said. “And there are people out there who want to help them and are rooting for them.”
Additional tobacco cessation resources are available through the Garfield County Tobacco Free Coalition, by contacting project coordinator Annie Evans at 213-3168.
http://enidnews.com/localnews/x19108530 ... hand-smoke