No Excuses, Don’t Ever Smoke Near My Kids

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
ClarkandCompany / Getty Images

We all have freedom of choice, which is probably the best thing about a democracy, right? The right to vote, the right to practice whatever religion you choose (if any), the right to homeschool or send your kids to public school or private school, the right to dye your hair purple or live on a boat or own 19 cats. All good stuff.

And yes, adults in this country still have the right to smoke.


If you’re choosing to breathe in toxic cancer-emphysema-COPD-causing chemicals, well, I wish you and your lungs the best of luck, because it’s your body to do with as you wish. (And as a former smoker myself, I get it. Smoking calms the nerves and can help you cope with the shit-storm of the day you’re having.)

However, children are innocent and don’t usually have a choice in the air they breathe. They can’t always just walk away or leave the area if their environment is making them cough, making their eyes water, or mercilessly attaching it’s stench to their clothing. And some kids, like my son, already have breathing issues, which makes their air even more precious. Between his severe allergies and random asthmatic flair-ups, he can barely breathe on a good day. He’s on daily medications just to function like a regular kid and has had two trips to the ER within the past year for breathing treatments and steroids when his daily meds didn’t cut it.

So yeah, if you’re choosing to smoke, I’m going to have to ask you to remove yourself from his air space (and my other kids’ too) and I’m not sorry about it.

Listen, parenting is the toughest gig out there. Most of us are doing the best we can with the knowledge and finances and energy we’ve got. And knowing that, I truly do not judge (or give much thought to) most of the choices parents make—organic or not? Don’t care. One kid? 10 kids? You do you. But if you willingly expose young children to the toxicity of second-hand smoke, well, that’s one parenting choice that’s just not okay.

Since we are well into 2018, I assume that everyone knows smoking is detrimental to one’s health, right? I mean, is there anyone left who doesn’t know that tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals that are toxic and can cause cancer? Yet we still hear the old “I grew up around it and I turned out fine” and “My kids are okay because we crack the windows in the car” every so often. So I’m led to believe that there are adults out there who still don’t understand the true gravity of what second-hand smoke does to a child’s body.

Maybe some of these sobering facts will help change that.

1. Any exposure is harmful.

There is no safe way to handle second-hand smoke besides eliminating it entirely. Even the smallest amount entering children’s airways is dangerous to their health. The CDC reports that merely separating smokers from nonsmokers, opening windows, or using air filters does not prevent second-hand smoke from entering a person’s lungs.

When a child breathes in second-hand smoke, they are taking in 7,000 chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful, and at least 69 of which are known to cause cancer, including, but not limited to:

  • arsenic
  • benzene
  • a toxic metal called beryllium
  • a hazardous gas called butadiene
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • ethylene oxide
  • nickel
  • a radioactive chemical element called polonium
  • vinyl chloride

Let me ask you this. If someone said to you, “Go send your kid into that room where they’ll breathe in 10 toxic chemicals for an hour,” would you do it? Probably not, I’m guessing. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to innocent kids every day when adults smoke around them.

2. Second-hand smoke kills.

The CDC reports that since 1964, approximately 2,500,000 non-smokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. TWO POINT FIVE MILLION PEOPLE. This isn’t like “Oh, they just say that” or “Yeah, I guess it’s happened to a few people.” In the span of five decades, which is less than one lifetime, 2.5 million nonsmokers have been taken from this world because of breathing in the smoke from someone’s else’s choice.

3. Second-hand smoke makes kids sicker.

A child exposed to second-hand smoke is more likely to have chronic ear infections, asthmatic symptoms, respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and/or infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. Also, babies with tiny lungs are at greater risk for SIDS when those tiny lungs are forced to breathe in this toxicity.

If your child breathes in second-hand smoke and is chronically sick, you might find yourself stressing about doctors bills, medications, taking time off work, and getting them caught up on homework. But eliminating their exposure to such harmful chemicals could help alleviate all that. And imagine how much better their childhood would be if they were healthy.

4. It’s not just lung cancer we need to worry about.

Besides lung cancer, evidence also suggests second-hand smoke might be linked in adults to cancers of the larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), nasal sinuses, brain, bladder, rectum, stomach, and breast. And, in children, second-hand smoke has been linked to lymphoma, leukemia, liver cancer, and brain tumors.

It also affects the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and impacts mental and emotional changes. In fact, some studies have shown that exposure to SHS is linked to symptoms of depression.

5. It gets into your kids’ bodies in more ways than you think.

Second-hand smoke is a mixture of two forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco. That includes mainstream smoke, which is the smoke exhaled by the smoker, as well as side-stream smoke. Side-stream smoke is the smoke that comes from the lighted end of the cigarette, pipe, cigar, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, “This type of smoke has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is more toxic than mainstream smoke. It also has smaller particles than mainstream smoke. These smaller particles make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily.”

Furthermore, studies are now being conducted on what’s called “third-hand smoke,” which is left on household fabrics, carseats, and in dust particles after the smoking has ceased. The American Cancer Society reports that these particles combine with gases in the air to form cancer-causing compounds that settle onto surfaces.” For instance, NNK and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), carcinogens that are known to cause lung cancer, have been found in dust samples taken from the homes of smokers. Research has also shown that third-hand smoke can damage human DNA in cell cultures and impact blood clotting in lab animals.”

So although the research on third-hand smoke is only in its beginning stages, experts caution parents with babies and toddlers who are likely to things in their mouth to be extra vigilant, as these objects could have the remnants of third-hand smoke on them, and we don’t yet know how detrimental to their overall health this could be.

In the end, there’s really only one option if you want to protect your children, and that is to eliminate all exposure to second-hand smoke in their world. As for my kids, it’s one of my main priorities, and although you have the choice of what you put into your body, you don’t get a say in what goes into theirs. If you’re a neighbor, or a friend, or a family member, I’d love to hang out. And if my kids aren’t around, I don’t really care what you smoke.

But if they are nearby, that’s a different story. I’m a mama bear first and my kids’ right to clean air and healthy lungs trumps your right to inhale cancer-causing carcinogens. Period.

This article was originally published on