Can Secondhand Smoke Affect the Mental Health of Children?
Animals exposed to secondhand smoke display symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. The same association between tobacco exposure and mental health issues can be seen with humans.
In fact, a 2011 study from Finland suggests that a mother's smoking habits during pregnancy can have a deleterious effect on the baby's developing brain.
Examining Finnish data from 175,000 children born in the country between 1987 and 1989, Finnish researchers have discovered that mothers who smoked while pregnant had a higher incidence of children on antidepressant medication, stimulants and drugs for addiction.
11% of children whose mothers smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day and 14% of children whose mothers smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day were on at least one psychiatric medication.
By contrast, only 8% of children whose mothers remained smoke free during pregnancy were on at least one of the drugs.
Another study conducted at the University of Miami Millar School of Medicine came to a similar conclusion. A greater tendency exists in boys,exposed to tobacco smoke in their environment,to show symptoms of ADHD, depression, anxiety and conduct disorder than those with no exposure to the environmental contaminant.
Girls exposed to secondhand smoke tended to display symptoms of anxiety and ADHD. Researchers measured the level of cotinine, a biomarker for exposure to tobacco smoke in children's blood, in order to determine the level of exposure to secondhand smoke; then they correlated this data with the children's behavior and mental condition.
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The truth of the matter is that smoking is strongly associated with mental health disorders and high suicide rates.
According to Ash Fact Sheet on Smoking and Mental Health, tobacco use is high among psychiatric patients. For example, smokers account for 40-50% of people with depressive and anxiety disorders and for 70% or higher of people with schizophrenia. Some researchers conclude that smoking may act as a trigger for irregular mental states.
Most people use cigarette smoking as a form of self-medication. Smokers use tobacco to relieve feelings of anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, this form of relief does not last long and gives way to withdrawal symptoms and increased cravings. All in all, smoking neither relieves anxiety nor cures the underlying causes of depression.
Evidence also shows that mental patients who want to quit smoking can be successful in their attempts provided they are given professional support.
Because of its highly addictive and health eroding nature, tobacco use in the presence of children is indeed a matter of great concern.
Evidence is mounting that secondhand smoke especially in the presence of children is a matter that warrants stronger legislative intervention. A ban of smoking in public places must be coupled with a ban of smoking for mothers and caretakers of children. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that about 60% of children are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Do we care enough about our children to make their environment smoke free?
Park, Alice. "Secondhand Smoke May Affect Mental Health," Time. June 7, 2010.
Pittman, Genevra. "Secondhand Smoke May Affect kids' Mental Health," Reuters Health. April 7, 2011.
Reuters. "Mom's Smoking Tied to Psychiatric Meds in Kids: Study," The London Free Press. August 30, 2011.
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Disclaimer: The above information is meant only to inform and should never displace professional consultation.