News Releases

June 24, 1999

One in three kids’ health at risk from household smoke, doctors warn

 (Ottawa) – Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) today released an analysis showing that one in three Canadian children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in their home, and that almost 9 in 10 children who live with a smoker are given no protection from the smoke.

"My practice is full of children whose health suffers because their parents don’t understand how important it is to protect children from cigarette smoke in the home," said Dr. Tom Kovesi, a respirologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. "Asthma, ear infections, pneumonia are all more common for children living in smoky homes."

"More than one and a half million children live in smoky homes," said Dr. Atul Kapur, who practices emergency medicine at Ottawa’s Civic Hospital. "If their homes were smoke-free, there would be thousands fewer sick children every year – and dozens of families would be spared the tragedy of Sudden Infant Death. (SIDS)."

On June 16th 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report estimating that 700 million children around the world were exposed to second hand smoke. WHO confirmed that second-hand smoke is associated with lower respiratory tract infections, middle ear disease, chronic respiratory symptoms, asthma, decreased lung function and SIDS.

To assess the exposure of Canadian children, PSC commissioned Dr. Tom Stephens to prepare a special analysis of the National Population Health Survey, conducted in 1996-97 by Statistics Canada. Tom Stephens is a sociologist with special expertise in tobacco and health issues. His analysis revealed that:

  • 1.6 million children under the age of 12 are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke at home.
  • 33% of all children live in smoky homes – but the proportion climbs to 85% of children who live with a daily smoker.
  • The highest level of exposure is for children in Quebec (45% of all children; 94% of children living with a daily smoker) and the lowest is for children in British Columbia (23% of all children, 67% of children living with a daily smoker).
  • 51% of children whose parents are low-income are regularly exposed, compared with 18% of children of the highest-income parents.
  • Parents who don’t believe that second-hand smoke makes children sick or who don’t believe that parents’ smoking will encourage children to start are twice as likely to allow their children to be exposed.

Drs. Kapur and Kovesi stressed that the main factor behind children’s exposure was whether there was a smoker in the home. "Rich and poor, east and west, educated or not -- the vast majority of smokers fail to protect the young children who live with them," said Dr. Kapur.

Dr. Tom Kovesi stressed that keeping a smoke-free home was an element of child safety. "90% of parents protect their children by using the right kind of car-seat," he said "but only 15% of smokers protect their children from the toxic ingredients in second-hand smoke."

"These are disturbing numbers, and should prompt everyone to do more to protect Canada’s kids," said Dr. Kapur. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is calling on smokers to refrain absolutely from smoking in buildings used by children, and on parents to better protect their children from this major cause of illness.

"Physicians must also do more to remind parents of the importance of protecting their children from cigarette smoke," he said.

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada is a registered national charity, incorporated in 1985. Its mandate is to research tobacco-caused disease and to promote measures to reduce tobacco use. A contribution from Health Canada supported this study.

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Download the analysis in PDF Form:

Highlight Sheet #1.  Smoking in Canadian Homes:  Are children at risk?

Highlight Sheet #2.  Smoking in Canadian Homes:  Are all smokers the same?

Highlight Sheet #3.  Smoking in Canadian Homes:  Does health knowledge make a difference?

Background Sheet:  Second-hand Smoke and Children's Health

Background Sheet:  Impact of second hand smoke on children's health, findings by major health agencies (from World Health Organization Report)

World Health Organization:  Consultation report.   Enviornmental Tobacco Smoke and Child Health.  Tobacco Free Initiative, World Health Organization, June 1999.

For information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Kapur or Dr. Kovesi:

Cynthia Callard (613 ) 233-4878
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada

Suzanne Sabourin (613) 737-2658
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario

For information: Cynthia Callard, Executive Director 613 233 4878