Parents fail to set the rules on smoking

A study involving 1,770 parents and guardians in New York and New Jersey has found that despite repeated health warnings about the dangers of second-hand smoke, a large percentage of families have no rules that limit children's exposure to tobacco smoke.

Researchers Sara Pyle, M.A., and C. Keith Haddock, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and colleagues found that in nearly half of homes and more than half of family cars, children are exposed to second-hand smoke and many parents consistently make no effort to protect their children from secondhand smoke in public places.

The researchers approached parents and guardians at 15 paediatric residency-training programs in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area who were waiting for their child's appointment with their paediatrician. The adults were asked to identify from a list of possible rules which family smoking restrictions were in place within their family. This included such rules as "Only adults can smoke," "Adults can smoke, but not around children," and "No smoking is allowed in my home." The researchers also inquired about tobacco exposure rules outside the home, including "Do not allow smoking in the car," "Ask people not to smoke in their presence," and "Usually sit in the no-smoking sections of restaurants."

According to the authors the findings of the study are not encouraging for children's health. In 40 percent of homes and in more than 50 percent of family cars, children are exposed to tobacco smoke and, fewer than half of the parents/guardians consistently choose to sit in the smoke-free section of restaurants and trains, and less than half ask others not to smoke in the presence of their children. Families with low incomes and ethnic minorities were among the most likely not to have rules that limit children's exposure to second-hand smoke outside the home. Families with income over $41,000 per year were more likely to report having an entirely smoke-free home and to limit exposure outside the home.

The World Health Organization says exposure to all this second-hand smoke - a Class A environmental carcinogen - is especially harmful to children. Higher incidence of lower respiratory tract infection (such as bronchitis and pneumonia) as well as middle ear diseases and worsening of asthma have been attributed to environmental tobacco smoke.

The results clearly show the need for more public health efforts to ban smoking in public and other enclosed places in order to protect children form the effects of second-hand smoke.

The findings are published in the spring issue of Families, Systems & Health, a journal published by the American Psychological Association.

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