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Passive Smoking, A Silent Baby Killer

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It is a known medical fact that non-smokers, who inhale cigarette smoke are at risk of cancer and other health problems just like the smokers themselves. This is not only applicable to  adults, as children who are exposed to passive smoking are liable to possible lungs damage and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). RALIAT YUSUF writes.

Children who are exposed to passive smoking also known as secondhand smoke may experience the damaging effects well into adulthood, say scientists. In a recent study conducted   by a team of researchers from University of Arizona, it found a strong link between childhood exposure to second-hand smoke and chronic cough in adulthood.

It adds that even non-smokers who were exposed to passive smoking when they were young had a higher risk of developing chronic chest infections.

The team of  researchers  analysed results from a 24-year study that assessed the prevalence rates and risk factors of respiratory and other chronic diseases. In the course of the study which was done over a period of two decades, participants were asked to complete questionnaires that were issued every two years during the period in review.

It was discovered that 52.3 per cent of the children had been exposed to tobacco smoke between birth and 15 years old and that this exposure was significantly associated with several persistent respiratory symptoms.

Ailments such as asthma as well as other respiratory symptoms were examined and found that exposure to parental smoking had the strongest association with cough and chronic cough that persisted into adult life.

A consultant pediatrician based in Abuja, Dr Richard Shatima, explains: “First of all, it is important to understand how the respiratory system works.

The respiratory tract starts from the nose and ends in the alveoli where respiration takes place. It also has a lot of defense mechanism because the lung has been made naturally to defend its host against foreign particles such as smoke, dust, fumes and micro organisms”.

He points out that it is a fact that those that live in the city are highly prone to respiratory problems as a result of generators, cars and cigarette smoke which releases carbonmonoxide(CO)which affects the quality of air we breathe, he says. Inhaling these fumes continuously makes the defense mechanism to get overstretched. The defense mechanism gives up and fails due to the intensity of the pollutant.

According to Shatima, when children and  non-smokers are exposed to involuntary smoking or passive smoking, they  take in nicotine and other toxic chemicals just like smokers do. The more exposed the person is, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in the body.

“There is a defence mechanism called microphages found along the respiratory tract which helps to engulf any foreign particle that comes into the system and destroy them in order to prevent them from entering the alveoli where the exchange of air takes place”, he said.

The pediatrician noted that it is easier for children to have problem because their respiratory organs are not fully matured and hence they are more vulnerable.

When an infant is exposed to cigarette smoke either from a smoking parent or within the home, the quality of air invariably reduces causing the abdomen to become bloated with such particles  because the microphages is overstretched and cannot really perform its function.

The child is exposed to respiratory infection such as bronchitis, asthma, bronchial pneumonia and respiratory tract infection which is the number 3 leading cause of death in children after diarrhea and malnutrition.

Passive smoking also exposes a baby to the risk of cot death i.e sudden infant death (SID), due to continuous exposure to smoke from a parent over time. When these gets accumulated in the baby, it struggles for breath without the parents noticing thereby resulting in sudden death.

Technically speaking, passive smoking is bad because smoking parents may not be cautious enough to smoke outside or far away from where the baby is thereby subjecting the child to risk of respiratory problem.

It should be noted however, that this happens over a period of time of continuous exposure and not after just a single or two episodes of exposure, Shatima stated.

For parents who smoke, he advised that the best option is to give up because apart from the risk associated with smoking on the part of the smoker, people around and even children will have their own share of the complication associated with this addiction.

Further research will be needed to examine whether smokers who were exposed to second-hand smoke as children have a greater risk of dying in middle-age than smokers who were not exposed, the research concluded.

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