Going to another room won’t protect children from smoke, says James Cant
IMAGINE something that’s 20 times smaller than a single grain of sand. That’s the size of the particles that make up the vast majority of second-hand smoke. In fact, it’s really a misnomer to call it “smoke” at all, as 85 per cent of it is totally invisible and has no detectable smell. So if you light up inside your home, you can’t see what’s really happening. A room can look fresh and clear, but still be filled with that hidden danger. And it can stay that way for up to five hours after smoking just one cigarette.
It’s a chilling thought, particularly when you think about the damage second-hand smoke can do. Second-hand smoke floods the surrounding air with 4,000 toxic chemicals, with nothing to keep them from reaching people nearby. Children are especially at risk because of their little lungs, faster breathing and developing immune systems. The smoke can contribute to diseases ranging from colds and ear infections to asthma, meningitis and cot death. It’s estimated that 9,500 children are admitted to Scottish hospitals every year because of the menace of second-hand smoke. That’s 9,500 too many.
Tiny smoke particles will drift under doors and up the stairs, so having a smoke in the kitchen once the kids have gone to bed won’t protect them. Opening the window doesn’t protect them – often the draft just blows the deadly particles further inside, getting rid of the warning smell but leaving the creeping smoke to linger in your home.
The situation can be even worse in the confined space of a car, even with the windows open and the air conditioning on.
But thankfully, there is an easy way to beat this hidden danger and keep your family safe. It’s just four little words: take it right outside. If you want to have a smoke, leave the house and shut the door behind you, and never smoke in the family car. Sometimes it’s not easy. You might be on your own watching the kids, or chatting to a friend, or it might just be a rainy day. But if you have to smoke there are lots of ways to fit smoking outside around your day-to-day activities. Lots of people choose to have a smoke when they’re doing something else, like taking the bins out or walking the dog. Others head outside when the kids are at nursery or school.
And when you’re stuck inside and need a cigarette, nicotine gum or spray can help keep the cravings at bay, even if you’re not trying to quit at the moment.
We need to be clear – this isn’t about wagging a finger and telling people to quit. It’s about making sure that we all know about the dangers posed to our children’s health by second-hand smoke, and the best ways to protect them whether or not we choose to smoke.
Scotland is a world leader on this topic, both in research and in government action. We have a world-first target to cut children’s exposure to second-hand smoke in half by 2020. That would mean 50,000 more children protected from potentially fatal disease. Meeting that goal won’t be easy.
For that reason, the Scottish Government has launched a new information campaign to let people know the facts. You might have seen it on TV, in the papers and on posters outside, heard it on the radio or even been along to one of the events currently touring the country. It’s an excellent effort, but it’ll mean nothing unless we all pitch in to protect Scotland’s children.
So remember, if you’re having a cigarette it’s vital to protect your kids from dangerous, invisible smoke. It’s not worth risking their health today and for the rest of their lives for that cigarette indoors. All you have to do is take it right outside.
• James Cant is head of the British Lung Foundation, Scotland