Africa: New Brief Outlines Devastating Harms From Tobacco Use and Exposure to Second-Hand Tobacco Smoke During Pregnancy and Throughout Childhood – Report Calls for Protective Policies


A new WHO report, Tobacco Control To Improve Child Health And Development, calls for raising awareness among practitioners and policymakers about the importance of strong tobacco control measures for protecting the health and development of children, including banning tobacco advertising, implementing 100% smoke-free environments and raising taxes on tobacco.

Exposure to tobacco smoke has devastating impacts throughout childhood and adolescence, starting from conception.

Exposure of unborn children to maternal smoking or second-hand smoke is linked to birth defects, stillbirths, preterm births and infant deaths. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is linked to a doubling of the risk of sudden infant death and birth defects, while exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy is linked to a 23% increased risk of stillbirth and 13% increased risk of congenital malformation.

Second-hand smoke kills around 1.2 million people every year and 65,000 of these premature and preventable deaths are children and adolescents under 15 years. Children with caregivers who smoke are almost 70% more likely to try smoking by the age of 15.

“Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke affects children’s survival, health, and development before and after birth,” said Dr Bernadette Daelmans, Unit Head, Child Health and Development at the WHO Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing. “There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. It seriously harms the health of a child, and may drive a child to later engage in tobacco use, which will increase risk of serious health harms throughout life,” she said.

Tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy hurts babies

Exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy is particularly relevant to many low- and middle-income countries, where few women smoke, but many men do. In addition, use of smokeless tobacco during pregnancy also increases risks of stillbirth, preterm birth or having a low-birth-weight baby.

Children living with smokers are at greater risk for lung disease and early mortality

Children living with smokers are at greater risk for bronchiolitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections. They are also more likely to acquire and be hospitalized for asthma, and develop middle-ear disease. Moreover, they are at increased risk of dying before their fifth birthday.