Tag Archives: Smoking around kids

Study: Kids’ exposure to secondhand smoke raises danger of heart disease as adults


A study recently released out of Finland suggests that secondhand smoke not only damages lung health around kids, it damages their circulatory system to the point of raising the risk of heart disease when they are adults.

What researchers found in this 20-year study is that kids exposed to nicotine from their parents’ smoking tend to have an added build-up of carotid plaque in their blood vessels as adults — the kind of plaque that causes heart disease.

Just more fuel to the fire about the damage down by secondhand smoke, especially to kids. Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause and worsen lung and bronchial infections, aggravate asthma, cause ear infections among children and even increase the risk of sudden-death syndrome. There are still people claiming secondhand smoke doesn’t kill or even harm anyone (Libertarian stooge John Stossel comes to mind), but those voices have grown more and more quiet over the past 10 years since I’ve been involved in the tobacco control debate. They were pretty loud ten years ago, but nobody listens to them anymore, just like most everyone stopped listening 30 years ago to those people still trying to claim smoking didn’t give smokers lung cancer.

Heart disease and blood vessel plaque buildup … you can add to the afflictions caused by secondhand smoke.

I once did a little math exercise that really scared me. You’re going to find this number hard to believe, but bare with me … it is a shocking number.

I estimate that for the first 16 years of my life, my parents smoked between them roughly five to six packs a day. To be conservative, let’s call that 100 cigarettes a day. Say, I was exposed to their smoking for 8 hours of the day — one-third of that 100 — that’s 33 cigarettes a day. Say, I actually ingested 10 percent of their smoke into my lungs — that’s 3.3 cigarettes a day.

That’s 3.3 cigarettes a day, 365 days a year, for 16+ years. That comes out to the equivalent of roughly 20,000 cigarettes. So I estimate that just from my parents alone, not counting my brother and sister who smoked, not counting all of my parents’ friends who smoked — and they pretty much all did — I breathed in the equivalent smoke of 20,000 cigarettes from the time I was a baby in a crib to until I was  16. My dad died when I was 16, so that number probably dropped off afterward. 20,000 cigarettes in my still developing lungs. No wonder I had such bad bronchitis as a teenager, no wonder I had chronic problems with bronchitis until I turned 30.

And now it makes me wonder whether it’s going to catch up with me with heart disease. I’ve already had one circulatory system scare.

I’m not bitter or angry at my parents about it and I hope I don’t come off like a whiner — it’s just that that 20,000 figure continues to blow me away. They didn’t know (though, without trying to sound bitter about it, I will always wonder why the thought never seemed to cross their minds that all that smoke might not be good for their kids. My mom loves to tell a story about how they had to leave Canada because it was so cold and her husband and my brother had pneumonia because of the cold. Cold weather doesn’t cause pneumonia. I have to bite my tongue every time she tells that story, because I want to say to her, “Mom, it wasn’t the cold weather that was giving dad and the kids pneumonia, it was probably the cigarettes more than anything …” But, to keep the peace, I never come out and say that.)

Anyway, most smokers know better today. I wish 100 percent of smokers knew better, but I still shake my head at the nitwits who in this day and age still smoke around kids. I bend over backward not to pass judgement on smokers, except when I see people smoking in a car with kids or otherwise blowing smoke in kids’ faces. Then I have a hard time not glaring.

When I became militant about cigarettes


This image I saw from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reminds me of a story. I pinpoint it to the day I became militant about smoking.

I grew up around smoking. I breathed six packs a day worth of secondhand smoke from my parents (dad — 4 packs a day, mom — 2 packs a day). I remember whining to them about how much their smoking was bothering me in the car, and I was told “just roll down the window.” They didn’t want to hear it. I remember how bad their smoke was in the RV all night when we went camping.

Well, sure enough, I had a ton of ear infections as a kid. Had to have surgery on my ears because of the ear infections, probably caused by my parents’ smoking. In my early teens I started getting bronchitis all the time. By the time I hit college age, any head cold would immediately migrate to my chest and it would turn into 6 weeks of coughing. Twice in my 20s, I came down with pneumonia (and one time pleurisy). Only at the age of 29 did I finally grow out of that annual cycle of bronchitis and 6-8 weeks every winter of nonstop coughing.

Anyway, this brings me to Vic’s Drive Inn in Friday Harbor, Wash. Vic’s was a smoking joint, and in fact, I never sat down in Vic’s as a result. The smoke was SO thick in that place that one time I walked in just to grab a pickup order and walked back to work and everyone made fun of me because I reeked of smoke. I was in the building for less than 10 minutes. It was so bad, I went home and changed.

So, this one other time I walked into Vic’s, there was a fisherman sitting at a table (Friday Harbor was once a fishing town — no more, the fishing industry was in its dying throes at the time), puffing away on his cigarette with about a two-year-old boy sitting in his lap, coughing his head off and bawling. It just made me livid. The kid obviously had a respiratory infection, and there’s dad sitting 12 inches away literally blowing cigarette smoke in his face. Boy, I’m a big believer in not giving smokers shit, but I gave that guy a good glaring. What an asshole, I thought. What a self-centered idiot. It just brought back all my memories of those awful trips in the car and awful nights in the RV around a haze of cigarette smoke, and awful nights with burning eyes and a burning throat. I literally felt like punching the moron. I was really, really furious. I have never been so angry at a smoker.

Vic’s — an icon in Friday Harbor, Washington

Instead, years later, I decided to blog about tobacco and to try and be a bit more constructive. Like I said, i will never forget that day, or that kid, or how amazingly stupid that guy was being. This would have been sometime in the mid-1990s.

(As an aside, Vic’s Drive Inn was sold a couple of years after that, and the new owners made it smokefree. I did a big article on it at the time. They said they lost a few customers, but gained a lot more than they lost. Washington went smokefree about 10 years ago and smoking restaurants went away.)