It’s well known that children whose parents use tobacco are much more likely to use tobacco themselves as they pass from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. But what are the odds of children becoming smokers if their nicotine-dependent parents quit? A new study published in Pediatrics suggests that while any exposure is likely to lead to a child who smokes, it’s never too late for parents to quit — and the earlier the better:
[O]ur results showed that exposure to parental smoking when parents had quit before baseline was not associated with adolescent smoking. These data support the hypothesis that intergenerational smoking transmission occurs, in part, through social learning where adolescent smoking is influenced by observation of parental smoking.
There are many reasons why pediatricians don’t want children smoking (or chewing) tobacco, let alone being exposed to others’ bad habits. We know that secondhand smoke is dangerous to children and leads to more cases of SIDS in young infants, more frequent and severe upper and lower respiratory infections, asthma, inflammation, ADHD, behavioral problems, brain damage, as well as other health effects (those aren’t enough?) that are harder to link causation (like premature heart disease and cancer). The good news is that if your children grow up in a smoke-free house where they don’t observe the adults they love smoking (or chewing) tobacco, they are most likely going to end up non-smokers themselves. The bad news is if you are a parent who smokes (and the same probably goes for grandparents and other relatives where tobacco use can be observed by young children): For every year that a parent continues to smoke after a child is born, the risk that the child will become a smoker increases.
Because nicotine is so physically addictive, and because it does such terrible damage to the human body (not just to the user but also to others casually exposed), it is one of the most dangerous drugs there is. So pediatricians will continue to hammer this point home to parents over and over again: If you smoke, you’re addicted to a drug. Either knock it off or get help — for your children’s sake as well as for yours!