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Celebrate Moms Who Protect Children’s Health

Mothers want to do everything possible to help their children develop into healthy adults. This month, CDC urges mothers to protect themselves and their children from the dangers of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke and also encourages family members to support moms in maintaining a tobacco-free life. Why?

  • Photo: Three generations of womenSmoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In 2010, nearly one in five U.S. adults (45.3 million) were current smokers.
  • Smoking dramatically increases one’s risk for heart disease, stroke, many kinds of cancer, and other illnesses.
  • Heart disease continues to be the leading killer of women in the United States.
  • Smoking causes an estimated 80% of all lung cancer deaths in women.
  • Compared with nonsmokers, smoking is estimated to increase a woman’s risk of developing lung cancer by 13 times.
  • 17% of women in the United States still smoke cigarettes, but surveys indicate that 7 out of 10 of them want to quit.

Support from family and friends is important in helping smokers quit. Let moms know how special they are and how you want them to do something important for themselves and their families by quitting smoking.

Meet Tiffany, Who Quit Smoking to Be There for Her Daughter

When Tiffany was 16 years old, her mother, a cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer. Tiffany felt lost and abandoned. “Watching her suffer and cough was awful,” she recalls. “I felt alone and scared, and I felt it could have been prevented.” Still, Tiffany started smoking cigarettes in her late teens. “On the college scene, a lot of students were smoking, and I wanted to fit in.” Throughout the years she tried to quit, but it wasn't until her own daughter was 16 that she made the connection to her mother and put forth a serious attempt to quit. “I didn't want my daughter to think, 'Wow, my mother loves cigarette smoking more than she cares about me,'” says Tiffany.

In her effort to quit, she set a specific date to quit smoking and reached out to family and friends for support. Tiffany also changed her morning ritual. Instead of getting up an hour early to drink coffee and smoke, she enjoyed an extra hour of sleep. She got rid of all the cigarettes and ashtrays in her home and car and carried a picture of her mother, especially during long road trips, to remind her of everything her mother went through and her death from lung cancer. Tiffany says that during previous attempts to quit smoking, she used a nicotine patch, but only for a few days. This time she read and followed all the instructions. This helped ease the cravings for cigarettes. For awhile, Tiffany avoided social events where she might be tempted to smoke. She drank a lot of water and started exercising more often. She quickly discovered that without cigarettes, she had more energy and stamina. The support she received from family and friends helped, too. They sent cards of encouragement, helped her keep a positive attitude, and called and reminded her of all the reasons to never smoke again.

Tiffany’s biggest motivation has been her daughter. “She was so happy and proud of me when I quit,” says Tiffany. “She told me she had prayed that I would quit smoking. And I told her, 'I quit because I want to be around for you.' I love her so much, and watching her grow up and thinking how successful she could be in her life, I can't bear the thought of missing out on any of it!”

Meet Terrie, Who Quit Smoking for Her Grandchildren

Photo: Terrie holding photo of grandsonIn high school, Terrie was a pretty cheerleader who competed on the cheer circuit, but with a father and many friends who smoked, Terrie soon found herself lighting up in social settings. "It was the cool thing to do," she says.

Eventually, she was smoking up to two packs a day and started feeling the effects of tobacco at age 25—a sore throat that never seemed to go away. In 2001, at the age of 40, Terrie was diagnosed with oral cancer. Later that same year, Terrie was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was then that she quit for good. The doctors informed her that they would need to remove her larynx. Today, Terrie speaks with the help of an artificial voice box that was inserted in her throat. "This is the only voice my grandson knows," she says. “I miss being able to sing lullabies to him. When children ask me why I talk like this, I tell them it’s because I used to smoke cigarettes. My fear now is that I won’t be around to see my grandchildren graduate or get married."

Terrie works tirelessly to educate young people about the dangers and consequences of tobacco use. She's as active as she can be, lending her time and support to several health organizations. "I'm busier now than before I got cancer," Terrie says. Unfortunately, cancer has returned numerous times since she was first diagnosed, and she continues to battle it today.

Everyone, Especially Children, Should Be Protected From Secondhand Smoke

Did you know that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke?

  • Photo: Mother and daughter smilingTobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals (including toxic substances like formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and butane).
  • Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot completely eliminate exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.
  • Each year more than 300,000 children suffer from infections caused by secondhand smoke, including bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children.
  • Millions of children continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in the United States. In 2007–2008, about 54% of children (aged 3–11 years) and 47% of youth (aged 12–19 years) were reported to be exposed to secondhand smoke.

Meet Jessica and Her Son, Aden

Photo: Jessica hugging son AdenJessica's 7-year-old son, Aden, suffers from asthma attacks that have been triggered by secondhand smoke exposure. Aden was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with asthma. Although Jessica never smoked, many of Aden's attacks happened at the house of his caregiver, who was a smoker. Unfortunately, Jessica wasn't aware of the connection between secondhand smoke exposure and asthma. It took a visit to the emergency room for her and Aden's doctors to make that connection.

"What I've learned is that you have to protect your kids and stay away from people who smoke because it's really bad." Jessica urges people—especially first-time moms—to be more aware of their surroundings and not be shy about telling people not to smoke around their children.

Tips to Share With Moms to Help Protect Children From Secondhand Smoke

  • Do not let people smoke around your children. If you take care of children in your home, do not allow anyone to smoke there. Do not let babysitters, family, or friends smoke around your children.
  • If you are a mom who smokes, quit. Children of parents who smoke are twice as likely to become smokers. Resources like 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) and www.cdc.gov/tips can help moms quit smoking for good.
  • Choose restaurants and businesses that are smoke-free. "No Smoking" sections in restaurants do not protect children from secondhand smoke.
    • Make sure your children's day care centers and schools are tobacco-free. A tobacco-free campus policy prohibits any tobacco use or advertising on school property by anyone at any time. This includes off-campus school events.
    • Make your home and car completely smoke-free. Opening a window does not protect you or your children from secondhand smoke.
    • Teach your children about the health risks of exposure to secondhand smoke.

An Important Reminder for Future Moms

For women planning to have children, it's important to understand the health risks associated with tobacco use. Smoking increases the risk for adverse pregnancy-related health outcomes, including infertility, spontaneous abortion, premature rupture of membranes, low birth weight, neonatal mortality, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and SIDS.

Free Support to Quit

Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support and advice from experienced counselors, a personalized quit plan, self-help materials, the latest information about cessation medications, and more.

More Information

For more information on the health consequences of smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke, as well as resources on how to quit, consult the following: