Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), occurs when a cigarette, cigar, or pipe is lit and the smoke is exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke lingers in the air and is retained in soft surfaces such as carpets, curtains, clothing, and hair. More than 4,000 different chemicals have been found to be present in secondhand smoke, 43 or more of which are connected to cancer.

As many as 25% of U.S. adults currently smoke and 50% or more of children under 5 years old live with at least one adult smoker.

Everyone’s health is at risk from secondhand smoke, but it can be especially harmful to fetuses, infants, and children as their organs are still developing. For example, research has shown that pregnant women who smoke often give birth to babies with low birth weight. Nursing mothers who smoke produce less milk.

Exposure to secondhand smoke can impair infants’ and children’s lung development. It can also aggravate asthma, sinusitis, chronic cough, rhinitis, cystic fibrosis, sore throats, and colds.

Secondhand smoke increases the frequency and severity of childhood ear infections. Middle ear infections are the most common cause of hearing loss in children. If the child doesn’t respond well to medical treatment for frequent ear infections, ear tubes are often required.

The best way to protect your child from the complications of secondhand smoke is to not smoke in the home or while they are nearby. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes are highly addictive and difficult to quit. Stopping smoking for the sake of yourself and the children in your household is one of the best things you can do to improve health.

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