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What are the possible effects of secondhand smoke on infants?

Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP


​Secondhand smoke is definitely harmful, especially for infants and children since their lungs are still developing. Some of the harmful effects are not what you might think. Many people know that kids who are around smoke cough more, but did you know that they also get more ear infections?  

Risk for SIDS:

One of the most tragic effects of secondhand smoke on infants is that it increases their risk sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). No one knows exactly what causes SIDS, but infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die of SIDS than infants who aren't exposed. Infants are also more likely to get pneumonia, bronchitis, and yes, even ear infections. Sometimes the effects are severe; in children under 18 months old, secondhand smoke causes up to 15,000 hospitalizations per year in the United States!

More Colds & Infections:

As kids get older, those that are exposed to secondhand smoke get colds and infections like pneumonia more often, and take longer to recover. They also miss more days of school. Kids with asthma are at an even bigger risk, because secondhand smoke causes more frequent and severe asthma attacks leading to even more trips to the emergency room!

Risk for Cancer & Heart Disease:

Did you know that tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals? Over time, frequent exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. Smoking also sets a dangerous example for teens, as research has shown teens are more likely to start smoking if their parents smoke.Some of the reasons to quit smoking are very small - CDC

If You Smoke and Are Worried About the Effects on Your Baby:

The best way to create a healthy environment for your child is to quit. I know that quitting isn't easy, but you don't have to do it alone. You can talk to your doctor or call: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Sometimes, people have to try many times before they successfully quit smoking. Stick with it! Your efforts are a great investment in your own health and your family's wellbeing.

Additional Information from


Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP

​Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and a Medical Epidemiologist in the Global Immunization Division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She has research experience in childhood nutrition, adolescent reproductive health, and immunizations, and also participates in outbreak investigations and emergency responses. She enjoys running, gardening, martial arts, and traveling with her husband Kevin.​

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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