Lockdown leads to increases in secondhand smoke exposure for children

Published at 15 May, 2020.

passive smoking and children

Health campaigners are warning that new evidence suggests lockdown has left more children exposed to the harms of secondhand smoke. The warning comes today from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), British Lung Foundation, Fresh and Breathe 2025 [1] as evidence from the YouGov COVID tracker [2] shows that people who live in households that include children are 50% more likely to report being exposed to secondhand smoke since lockdown compared to those without children (10% compared with 6%).

A further 12% of smokers who live with children report they are smoking indoors more than they did before lockdown. YouGov’s COVID tracker found that parents who smoke are just as likely as other smokers to report making quit attempts and trying to reduce the amount they smoke since lockdown.

However, the indication that lockdown is leading to more frequent exposure to secondhand smoke has raised concerns that they are not getting the right support to quit and to protect those around them from tobacco smoke at this time.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, which is leading a campaign to encourage smokers to QuitForCovid, said: “This is an issue of equity. If you live in a high-rise block, taking your smoke outside is much harder than in a semi-detached with a garden. “We know parents who smoke are trying to quit and reduce the amount they smoke — and we need to make sure they have the support the need to do this. I urge smokers to get in touch with local services and to use other sources of nicotine as an alternative to smoking indoors if they need help to handle cravings. They can find out more at www.todayistheday.org.uk.”

Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, raising the risks of more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and even meningitis and sudden infant death.

Among adults, exposure significantly increases the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease (CHD) and lung cancer in non-smokers.

85% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, but many people are not aware that steps like opening a window, smoking by the back door or smoking in another room do little to protect children and other non-smoking adults. [3] Respiratory consultant Dr Nick Hopkinson, Medical Director at British Lung Foundation and Chair of ASH said: “Exposure to secondhand smoke is one of the leading causes of poor respiratory health in children. Smokers need to take their smoke outside but should try to quit if they can. Using alternative sources of nicotine like patches, gum or e-cigarettes can help reduce craving and protect them and their loved ones, especially children, from harm.”

Smokers can find out how to get help with their quit attempts by visiting www.todayistheday.co.uk and ask questions of leading experts by tweeting @QuitforCOVID.

Yorkshire Smokefree is the stop smoking service for Barnsley, Calderdale, Doncaster, Sheffield and Wakefield and is FREE to use. Call us on 0800 612 0011 to arrange an appointment with an advisor.


[1] This survey was conducted between 15th and 5th May. It was an online survey using the YouGov panel with 4007 respondents. For more information on the YouGov COVID Tracker see: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2020/03/17/YouGovinternational-COVID-19-tracker

[2] ASH is a public health charity founded in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians. British Lung Foundation is the UK’s leading lung health charity. Fresh is a regional public health charity in the North East of England. Breathe 2025 is a regional public health campaign across Yorkshire and Humber.

[3] For more information about the harms from secondhand smoke see the ASH fact sheet on secondhand smoke and visit www.smokefreefamilies.co.uk

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