Warning to Pregnant Women: Secondhand Smoke Harms You and Your Baby

October 04, 2012


It’s well-known that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to pregnant women and their babies.  But there’s more evidence all the time of how extensive the harm can be – both from smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

A recent study, published in the journal Early Human Development, found that prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke can harm the brain development of newborns.  The study found that newborns exposed to tobacco smoke – through their mothers’ smoking or secondhand smoke exposure during pregnancy – show poor physiological, sensory, motor and attention responses.

According to the researchers, smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and even obesity.

“Smoking during pregnancy is one of the biggest yet changeable causes of illness and death for both mother and infant,” the press release on the study states.

The study’s findings on secondhand smoke may be especially eye-opening.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer.  These chemicals include formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide.  Other conclusions of the Surgeon General include:

  • Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults.
  • Among infants and children, secondhand smoke causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), low birth weight, respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, ear infections and more severe asthma attacks.  It also slows lung growth in children.

The findings of this study provide another reason why states should enact comprehensive smoke-free laws that protect everyone from secondhand smoke in public and work places.  Parents can further protect their children from secondhand smoke by making homes and vehicles smoke-free and avoiding places that allow smoking.

For pregnant women who smoke, the message is clear: The sooner you quit, the healthier you and your baby will be.  Even better, quit before getting pregnant.  Get help and support by talking to your health care provider or calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.