Protecting kids from 2nd and 3rd-hand smoke


“Why aren’t cigarettes illegal if they’re that bad?” Jessica said, after hearing about more than 4,000 chemicals, metals and gases in smoke, even second-hand and third-hand smoke. “Money.” “Power,” said others in the workshop, “but that’s a whole other issue.”

All parents of children in local day care centers, they were at a session at LaCreche on Olson Highway, to learn about reducing kids’ exposure to ETS, environmental tobacco smoke. “It’s not about ‘stop smoking,’ but to be aware of what kids are exposed to, that is not their choice. Knowledge is power,” said facilitator Brandie Buckless.

ETS is sidestream smoke, what comes from a lit cigarette burning idly, and mainstream smoke, that which is exhaled. “It takes up to three hours for smoke to leave the room,” Buckless said, and residual or third-hand smoke particulates and chemicals settle on walls, carpets, and clothing and build up over time.

Shantell said her father smoked around the kids, “so when I got older, I just had the urge to smoke. And now you’d think I was 900 pounds. I have severe respiratory things, wheezing, always at the doctor, coughing up stuff.”

Participants heard how children’s exposure is twice that of adults because they breathe faster, their bodies and immune systems are still developing, and they can’t escape the smoking environment if they want to.

ETS, according to the United States Surgeon General, causes low birth weight in babies, weak lungs, acute respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, more frequent attacks in kids with asthma, and other respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheeze and breathlessness among school aged children. Children exposed to ETS are at increased risk for ear infections and are more likely to need an operation to insert ear tubes for drainage. (From the Surgeon General’s report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke).

One woman commented that all those illnesses and conditions probably mean lost time from work for parents, an economic impact, and more absences for kids, contributing to the school achievement gap.

A recent study showed children, especially African American children and those living in apartment buildings, having high levels of the “marker” called “cotinine,” a chemical formed as the nicotine from cigarettes is metabolized, in their saliva.

It’s after that study that LaCreche and other child care centers realized that child care workers are in a unique position to get the word to parents that they should protect their children from ETS, LaCreche Director Phyllis Sloan told NorthNews/Northeaster.

The study involved LaCreche Early Childhood Centers, Inc. and Hennepin County Strong Beginnings Child Care (serving about 750 urban children) in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Warren of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Brandi M. White of the Medical University of South Carolina.

In the workshop, participants talked about how even if a person goes outside to smoke, if they pick up their baby wearing the same clothes they smoked in, the child is exposed to all the particulates and chemicals. “It’s recommended to leave the jacket outside, or change clothes” and wash hands after smoking, Buckless said.

Other tips for preventing ETS: Ban smoking in the home or limit it to one area (presumably where children don’t go). Post “no smoking” signs in the home and car. Tell guests and babysitters not to smoke in the house. Place a chair, table and ashtray outside, “the best case is they smoke as they’re leaving, and don’t come back in after they’ve smoked,” Buckless said. She gave the suggestion of dry cleaning clothing and steam cleaning upholstery and carpets to get rid of third-hand smoke.

Devonia said friends are always asking to smoke in her car; so she welcomed the smoke free pledge that she can post in the vehicle. As Shantell and Jessica were talking about their cigarette addictions, and addictive personalities in general, Devonia said, “My parents were both that way, and I want to stay away from all of that.” She doesn’t smoke.

“One woman who came to pick up her child said she didn’t think the workshop was meant for her because she doesn’t smoke,” Buckless said. “But the information is for everybody.” Part of the pledge is about spreading the word, to “ask others to do their part to protect children and others from the harms of ETS.”

Participants also got a brochure on avoiding secondhand smoke exposure in apartments. Of the 51 percent of Minnesota renters who say secondhand smoke gets into their units from somewhere else in the building, 37 percent say it bothers them “a lot” or “so much I’m thinking of moving.” Other research findings can be accessed on

The workshops and training manuals for early care and education providers, called “Set the Rules” were funded by a grant from ClearWay Minnesota.

For more information or to inquire about holding a session, call 612-377-1786.