Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Growing Up With Second Hand Smoke

I had the best childhood ever.  I rode my bike everywhere, hung out with the kids in the neighborhood, and had loving supportive parents who indulged my every whim.  They supported me when I struck out- every time- in baseball.  They watched me practice dances in the living room and always gave me a standing ovation.  We took road trips across the country in the family station wagon, and while we were driving, they even cracked the windows so that I didn’t have to breathe in their secondhand smoke.  Although I know my parents meant well, I don’t think they realized that this didn’t protect me from their smoke.  According to a recent study, over one-fifth of nonsmoking children are exposed to secondhand smoke in cars. This smoke exposes them to more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. This doesn’t only happen in cars.  Secondhand smoke is also being breathed in by non-smoking children in their own homes.  I don’t think my parents knew this when I was a child. I’d like to believe that if they did, they wouldn’t have exposed me, their only daughter, to such a dangerous environment.

Truth be told, I have the best parents in the world.  But, I also have parents with an addiction to cigarettes.  As a child, their smoking never bothered me.  I mean, everyone smoked.  Yes, my house smelled, and my clothes and hair were always infused with the scent of tobacco. But, wasn’t that just like everyone else? 

In elementary school I began to understand the negative impact my parents’ smoking was having on them and on me.   Several of my friends’ parents stopped smoking and were beginning to care more about their health.  Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda were inspiring our moms to wear leg warmers and head bands.  (Luckily for me, my mom never picked up on those embarrassing fashion trends!) Unluckily for me, both of my parents ignored the 80’s health boom.  They continued to smoke in our house, in our car, at my dance recitals, the mall, the park…  Suddenly my friends were not allowed to stay over because they went home smelling like smoke.  I began arming myself with any brochures I could get about the negative effects of smoking.  I stole their cigarettes and hid them under my bed.  Even as a child, I understood that giving up cigarettes would be difficult.       

I am a grown woman now with children of my own, and I am happy to tell you that I have not personally suffered any major health issues directly associated with my parents tobacco addiction (other than multiple ear infections).  I’ve been very lucky.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to secondhand smoke can cause more than just ear infections.  It is also responsible for severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in children.  In fact, secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 150,000–300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia annually and approximately 7,500–15,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States for children 18 months old and younger.  Guess I was luckier than a lot of children who grew up in the same environment.

There are over 45.3 million adult tobacco smokers in the US today. According to a 2010 study by the CDC, 69% of these smokers want to quit.  Many of them will succeed.  My father has quit.  I think he has actually quit 5 different times now. Unfortunately his addiction is still winning.

My parents are still smoking- just not in the house anymore.  And not in the hospitals they have been admitted to.  Through cancers and debilitating heart disease, one thing has remained the same.  My parents are smokers.  It is part of who they are, regardless of my persistent pleas, their doctors’ warnings, and the aches and pains they have endured.  They are still the best parents in the world, and I love them more than they could ever know.  But, I will never let go of the dream of them quitting forever.    

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “Here she goes. Another anti-smoking story…”  I guess, if I have to be honest, it is indeed an anti-smoking story.  But, if you have children and you smoke, I sincerely hope this story is an addition to the smoking brochures left casually around the house, the stolen cigarettes that are hidden under your child’s bed, and the requests to roll down the car windows.  

My name is Tina Thorpe.  I'd love to hear your stories of growing up with second hand smoke.  Please post your experiences below.  Thank you so much for sharing.
Written by Tina Thorpe

- Jefferson County Public Health    


  1. Damn, 7,000 chemicals are a lot, how can parents let this happen to their own children, they should stop smoking in home or in vehicles to keep the kids healthy, i will definitely share this with my sister who is a smoker.

  2. Second hand smoke is more dangerous than smoking, parents should be careful while smoking, i hate such kind of people who don't care about others including their own kids.

  3. I totally get what you mean by having perfect parents and the big oversigt of smoking. My mom smoked while I was growing up and when she remarried my step dad did too. IN THE HOUSE. It's not until I left home for college that I realized how smelly it leaves you. It embarrasses me thinking back to high school. When you live with it, you simply don't know how awful it smells. I just hope it didn't cause any damage while I was growing up.