There are a variety of things parents try to make sure their children have before they go back to school — clothes, book bags, pens, notebooks, computer access.
There’s at least one thing, though, the youths should do without — secondhand smoke.
Although many parents will teach their children about the dangers of smoking, we urge them to consider the risk of exposure to secondhand smoke as well. According to a recent study, nearly a third of students from middle school up to high school senior are exposed to second hand smoke regularly.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the study — which looked at data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey — found that 29 percent of kids between sixth and 12th grades said they were exposed to secondhand smoke within the past seven days.
Most exposure took place when someone was smoking in the home. But even when a youngster was living in a smoke-free residence, exposure frequently occurred when riding in a vehicle with friends.
Dr. Humberto Choi of the Cleveland Clinic noted that the longer the exposure to the smoke is, and the more frequent it is, the higher the risk of pulmonary and heart consequences.
For instance, according to the clinic:
•5 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke stiffens the aorta as much as smoking a cigarette
•20 to 30 minutes of exposure causes excess blood clotting, as well as increases the buildup of fat deposits in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
•2 hours of exposure increases the chance of irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) and can trigger a fatal cardiac event or heart attack.
And when kids are exposed to cigarette smoke at a young age, Choi said, the likelihood for longer-term consequences is higher. Moreover, he noted that cigarette smoke gets into clothing and furniture, and the effects of the smoke can linger for everyone in the home who is exposed to it.
The only thing parents really can control is their own home, so if they themselves smoke but are concerned about their children’s exposure to secondhand smoke — and they should be — they should be taking their tobacco outside to light up.
If their children catch a daily ride to school with friends, then parents should find out who their kids are riding with in the car, ask if they have a friend, or a friend’s parent who smokes, and advise them about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
If in-vehicle smoking is a constant on the way to and home from school, parents should look into finding another way for their son or daughter to commute.
Pennsylvania law requires that students have a battery of vaccinations in order to attend public school. The idea, of course, is to keep the vaccinated from picking up a contagious disease that someone with whom they interact might be carrying.
It makes little sense to take such steps only to let a student be unprotected and exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Back-to-school preparation should include steps to keep to ensure this does not happen.