Cigarette smoke can trigger worsening asthma symptoms or an asthma attack in some people. Children are particularly sensitive to tobacco smoke as their lungs are smaller and more delicate, and are still developing. Children who live with smokers have higher rates of asthma than children living with non-smokers, and their asthma is triggered more often.
Effects of second-hand smoke on asthma in children
Around 40 per cent of children under the age of 14 years with asthma live with smokers and are likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke. This may be the smoke exhaled by smokers or smoke from the burning end of a cigarette.
It is estimated that children of parents who smoke are exposed to the same amount of nicotine as if they were actively smoking 60 to 150 cigarettes a year.Studies show that a child with asthma has more frequent and more severe asthma attacks if exposed to cigarette smoke. In fact, children with asthma whose parents smoke at home are twice as likely to have asthma symptoms all year long compared to children of non-smokers. These children are more likely to attend a hospital emergency department with asthma and their recovery time is slower after being in hospital.
Smoking in pregnancy
Studies show that between one in three and one in five mothers smoke during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy can severely affect the developing baby, increasing the risks of many conditions, including:
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or 'cot death')
- complications during the birth
- having a low-weight baby who is more vulnerable to infection and health problems in adulthood
- preterm delivery (birth at less than 37 weeks)
- the baby being born with a hare lip or cross-eyes
- the baby being born with weaker lungs, which may persist into adulthood
- the baby having a weaker immune system.
Smoking by the father
Smoking by the father can also severely affect the unborn baby and may result in lower birth weight of the baby and a higher risk of the baby dying soon after birth. It is still to be established whether this result is due to the pregnant mother's passive smoking or from direct damage to the sperm.
Tobacco laws in Victoria
Smoking in the family car increases exposure of both adults and children to second-hand smoke in an enclosed space. This is unhealthy and can trigger an attack in children who have asthma. In Victoria, it is illegal to smoke in cars carrying children less than 18 years of age.
It is also illegal to smoke:
- within the grounds of, and at and within four metres of entrances to all Victorian childcare centres, kindergartens (or preschools) and primary and secondary schools
- at and within four metres of entrances to children’s indoor play centres, public hospitals, registered community health centres and certain Victorian Government buildings
- at all of Victoria's patrolled beaches within 50 metres of a red and yellow flag
- within ten metres of children's playground equipment
- within ten metres of skate parks
- within the outdoor areas of all public swimming pool complexes
- within ten metres of outdoor sporting venues during under-18s events
- in all areas of train stations, covered bus shelters and raised platform tram stops.
Quit smoking for your children
Nicotine, one of the chemicals in cigarettes, is highly addictive. As a result, most smokers find it difficult to quit. You might find nicotine patches, inhalers or gum to be helpful – talk with your doctor or pharmacist about these.
A strong motivator to quit is the knowledge that every cigarette you smoke is causing damage not only to yourself, but also to your children. Giving up cigarettes is one of the best things you can do for their health and wellbeing.
Parents are role models for their children. Once you quit smoking, you will set a great example to the children around you and reduce the chance that they will take up smoking later in life. You will also reduce your and your children’s risk of developing asthma or worsening asthma symptoms.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Asthma Foundation of Victoria
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.