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On Call: Babies and Third-hand Smoke

Q. My father, brother, and husband all smoke. They don't do it in the house or anywhere near my 3-month-old, but you can still smell it on them and in the car. Could this hurt the baby?


A. I'm afraid so. The harmful chemicals in smoke seep into hair, skin, and clothes (which is what makes them smell so bad). This means that your baby can breathe in those toxins when, say, his dad cuddles him, or even when he's simply been where smoke has been. Chemicals that have gotten into furniture or car upholstery, which isn't often washed, may linger there for months, then be rereleased into the air for your child to inhale. Though scientists aren't sure how damaging these traces of toxic chemicals can be, even these small amounts seem to have the same effect as a low dose of secondhand smoke.

To minimize the risks, tell your husband to wash his hands as soon as he comes into the house after smoking  -- in a perfect world, he'd shower and change, too. Ask your brother and father to bathe and put on clean clothes before they visit, and make sure they wash their hands before holding the baby.

I'm glad your family's not smoking around the baby, because that would be far worse for his health. Really, though, the only way for there to be zero risk to your baby is to make sure there are no smokers around him, period. Of course, this is easier said than done. But what better incentive to stop smoking than to keep their own child or grandchild healthy? Point out that quitting smoking sets a good example for your child down the road  -- and greatly increases their chances of living long enough to see him grow up.

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