People Helping People: Healthy Children Require Healthy Air

Planning a family? Consider cutting tobacco out of the family picture first.

If you haven't heard, tobacco use is harmful not only to the people who use it, but also to babies and children exposed to tobacco. A new initiative called Project Tobacco Free Babies aims to educate Gwinnett families about the harmful effects of tobacco use on children to prevent a host of negative effects that can interfere with healthy development.

"Tobacco-free babies start with the pregnant mother," Anna Furer said. "When mothers smoke during pregnancy, the babies can be born with birth defects like low birth weight and underdeveloped hearts and brains. These effects stay with the children their entire lives - it's not something they will grow out of."

Furer developed this graduate school project after learning that babies exposed to tobacco before birth were more likely to have drug problems during adolescence. There are two ways that a fetus can be exposed to tobacco: through use by the mother and through the mother's exposure to second-hand smoke. Smokeless tobacco, although not commonly used by women, causes the same effects on the fetus as cigarettes and second-hand smoke.

Tobacco exposure after a child is born can also interfere with healthy development. An infant's lungs are extremely sensitive to tobacco smoke. Children exposed to tobacco smoke can develop asthma, chronic bronchitis and ear infections. Postnatal exposure to second-hand smoke has been significantly associated with an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Children exposed to tobacco smoke also show a higher instance of cognitive delay and problems hearing and speaking than those not exposed to tobacco smoke. An easy way to prevent these problems is to keep your child far away from second-hand smoke at all times. There is also recent research published in the January 2009 journal Pediatrics that "third-hand smoke" (chemicals from tobacco smoke lingering on furniture, walls, carpet, clothing, etc. where smoking once took place) can also cause negative effects on children's health.

The key to protecting children and babies from these effects is to limit their exposure to tobacco use.

If you're a pregnant woman, quit smoking and limit your exposure to second-hand smoke. It's never too late to quit. There is a toll-free Quit Line in Georgia - 1-800-270-STOP (7867).

If your spouse or other family members smoke around your children, share this information with them and discuss ways to keep smoke away from children.

Find out more by reading "The Effects of Tobacco Use Before and After Pregnancy on Exposed Children" at http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh24-4/242-249.pdf

Ari Russell is executive director of GUIDE, Inc. (Gwinnett United in Drug Education, Inc.). For more information about Project Tobacco Free Babies or steps you can take to prevent tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, contact Millie Linville at GUIDE, Inc., 678-377-4138 or millie@guideinc.org. For more information, visit GUIDE's Web site, www.guideinc.org, or contact Russell at 678-377-4132, ari@guideinc.org.