Passive Smoking Effects on Non-smoking Pregnant Women & Your Child

Neetu Ralhan

Created by Neetu Ralhan
Updated on Nov 26, 2019

Passive Smoking Effects on Non smoking Pregnant Women Your Child
Reviewed by Expert panel

Smoking near babies – Why even once is not O.K.

Are you subjecting your baby to passive smoking?

Are we inadvertently subjecting our children to Cancerous toxins?

Is Your Baby/ Child Protected from Passive Smoking?


“Smoking is injurious to health…Smoking causes cancer….Smoking kills.” These warnings have become somewhat invisible to us adults. We are quite aware of the health risks of tobacco use; however, in spite of the widespread awareness, most people find that the habit of smoking can be a hard one to break. Perhaps it is time to rephrase these health warnings for the sake of our children. Let’s re-read the above as follows:

“Secondhand Tobacco Smoke (SHS) is a leading cause of sudden death in babies. Passive smoking causes chronic lung infections in children Or, Secondhand smoke can hamper your child’s IQ.”

The above could probably have a larger impact on the targeted audience. However, the purpose of this write-up is not to influence adults to quit smoking.

Below are the facts that have been collated to draw attention to the serious effects of passive smoking on our children’s physical and mental capabilities.

Why is Passive Smoking Harmful?

Secondhand smoke is a deadly combination of side-stream smoke (smoke from the burning end of the cigarette) and the smoke exhaled by the user. It contains more than 4000 chemicals and about 70 cancer-causing toxins. The World Health Organization (WHO) figures show that 50% of all children worldwide are exposed to secondhand smoke at home. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and on average; children are exposed to more involuntary smoking than adults, a fact vetted by a report from the United States Public Health Service.

Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Children

Some experts believe that spending an hour with someone who smokes is equivalent to smoking 4 cigarettes yourself. Here are some of the extensively researched and documented the effects of SHS on children.

  1. Passive smoking severely hinders lung growth and increases the risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia in children.
  2. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)( link this to another article by Neetu on SIDS) - The chemicals in sidestream smoke seem to affect the brain function that regulates breathing in babies. Studies have shown that many infant babies who die of SIDS have high levels of nicotine in their lungs.
  3. SHS has been known to compromise children’s academic performance, cognitive skills, and learning abilities.
  4. Exposure to smoke in the household can lead to long-term wheezing, cough, and phlegm in children.
  5. Secondhand smoke is a known cause of sleep apnea and middle ear infections.
  6. Passive smoking can damage a child’s carotid arteries - the ones that supply oxygen-rich blood to the head and the neck.
  7. Exposure to tobacco smoke is known to increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks in asthmatic children.
  8. Involuntary smoking increases the chance of miscarriage, premature delivery, and low birth weight. It affects the cardiovascular function and can damage the lining of the blood carrying arteries.
  9. Rolling down the window while you smoke in the car does not protect your baby from tobacco smoke.

What If Smoking During Pregnancy

Following can happens if you or your partner smoking in pregnancy...

  1. Babies born to mums who smoke during pregnancy are at a higher risk of being born underweight and may have congenital abnormalities or birth defects.
  2. It has been seen that such children also have a higher risk of developing asthma in the first five years of life.
  3. Smoking during pregnancy severely affects the baby’s IQ and brain development.
  4. Nicotine shrinks blood vessels and introduces carbon monoxide in the mother’s blood, affecting the supply of oxygen to the fetus.
  5. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to serious complications such as premature delivery, ectopic pregnancy and abruption of the placenta.
  6. A study by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh concluded that “Exposure to SHS during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of having a small-for-gestation baby”. In simpler terms, this means that the fetus is smaller than it should be as per its gender and gestational age.

Women who smoke are 50% more likely to suffer infertility and may take longer to conceive. Research has shown that ‘female smokers may require nearly twice as many in vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts as nonsmokers’.

Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Non-smoking Pregnant Women

The following are the effects of passive smoking on pregnant women.

  1. Children of non-smoking mums who were exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy tend to have low birth weight and subsequent health complications in the early years.
  2. Babies exposed to tobacco smoke during gestation are more likely to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), aggression, depression and other behavioral problems.
  3. Children born to passive smoking mothers may have a poor motor and sensory development and a diminished attention span.
  4. Infertility - Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center, United States found that when women who are planning to get pregnant are exposed to six or more hours of secondhand smoke, they are at a higher risk of facing difficulty in conceiving and suffering miscarriages.
  5. Research has shown that secondary smoke can cause permanent genetic damage in newborns.

What If When Your Partner, Family Member or a Colleague Smokes?

The following may be consequences if one of them - your husband, family member or colleague smoke.  

  1. It is important for both parents to be aware of the harmful effects of nicotine on children. Once you are aware, you could share your learning with your family members and politely yet firmly request them not to smoke in the presence of the expectant mother and/or the child.
  2. At work, it is advisable to stay in the non-smoking areas and be vocal about your concerns regarding involuntary exposure to tobacco fumes. It is your right to ask for a non-smoking workspace and secure your own and your baby’s health.
  3. If you smoke, it is best-avoided smoking when children are around. It is important to know that smoking in a different room does not ensure sufficient protection for your child.


A last thought: We all want to be there for our children for as long as possible. Smoking can cut one’s lifespan by almost 10 years, perhaps a good reason for us to consider quitting?

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

  • 9
Comments ()
Kindly Login or Register to post a comment.

| Jan 24, 2013

Very aptly put Neetu. This is a very serious issue. Unfortunately, most smokers do not want to understand how serious passive smoking can be. I will certainly share this article. Another great one, thanks Neetu :)

  • Reply
  • Report

| Jan 25, 2013

i agree on this and request to all readers to quit smoking....

  • Reply
  • Report

| Sep 23, 2013

Very useful article Neetu.

  • Reply
  • Report

| Jun 17, 2016

very knowledgeable articl neetu thanks

  • Reply
  • Report

| Apr 08, 2017


  • Reply
  • Report

| Apr 08, 2017

we read this statutory warning everytime thrs a scene of smoking on tv, then y indian govt is not quitting manufacture of smoking? if it is so harmful, then eliminate the root cause; simply doing advt will not help.

  • Reply
  • Report

| Apr 09, 2017

Very informative and important blog

  • Reply
  • Report

| Dec 04, 2018

Need of the hour

  • Reply
  • Report
+ Start A Blog

Top Health Blogs

Ask your queries to Doctors & Experts

Ask your queries to Doctors & Experts

Download APP