The Effects of Second and Third Hand Smoke on Our Children

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Second and third hand smoke can affect children from as early as the point of conception and can have lasting, if not deadly, effects on them. Second hand smoke is the exposure to smoke coming from a tobacco product or being exhaled by a smoker. The smoke contains a mixture of more than 7,000 chemicals (such as arsenic, lead and carbon monoxide) and about 70 carcinogens (such as benzene and chromium). Second hand smoke causes premature death, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, ear infections, respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) and strengthening asthma attacks in children and infants.

Third hand smoke is just as dangerous as second hand smoke. Smoking leaves a residue on hair, skin, clothing and furniture. Children are exposed to the residue by touching items and ingesting the nicotine. Touching the residue can also cause the nicotine to recombine and form carcinogens in the atmosphere. Significant amounts of toxic by-products can be emitted for weeks after the smoking ends. Third hand smoke cannot be eliminated by opening windows, airing out rooms or vacuuming.

The only way to truly get rid of second and third hand smoke is to eliminate smoking all together.

To help battle this epidemic, Head Start/Early Head Start of Fayette County, a program of the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette, Inc, started an initiative in 2017 to educate families and provide them with the resources to stop smoking. Educational materials on the effects of second and third hand smoke are presented to families yearly. Head Start also partners with Fayette County Drug and Alcohol to provide smoking cessation classes to adults as well as anti-smoking presentations to the children. Families also complete a short survey yearly to track the effectiveness of the materials provided.

In the 2018-2019 Head Start program year:

  • 75 families were able to reduce the amount of tobacco usage in their home.
  • 60 families were able to reduce the amount of tobacco usage in their car.
  • 22 families were able to quit smoking, with 4 of these families utilizing the educational materials provided by Head Start of Fayette County.

If you or someone you care about wants to quit smoking, you can start today by using some of these tools:

  • Free Quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
  • Smokefree Text: text “QUIT” (7848) to IQUIT (47848)
  • Contact Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission: 724-438-3576
  • Other tools available at


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