COLUMN: Smoking parents set a bad example

Boston GP Simon Lowe is this week’s guest columnist...

WHEN I was young my most prized possession was my comfort blanket – I called it Claude.

I took Claude everywhere with me except when I visited my Gran’s house. Gran used to smoke and a visit to her house would make Claude smell like her ashtray, so to ensure lovely, fresh snuggles later in the day Claude would be left at home. It is because of this experience that I have never smoked a single cigarette.

We all have our reasons for smoking or not smoking. There has been a lot in the media recently about why people start smoking.

The Government is of the opinion that fancy packaging attracts youngsters to pick up the habit.

To prevent this it has ordered that big shops must hide cigarette packs from view and is talking about ensuring all packs appear drab and unappealing.

This is all well and good but, even with these restrictions on marketing, it will not prevent the tobacco companies benefiting from one of the best adverts there is for smoking – that is children seeing their parents smoke.

There is a lot of evidence to show that children of smokers are much more likely to smoke themselves – even if the parent slips outside the back of the kitchen to have a crafty one and never smokes in the house. Indeed if a mother smokes, her children are three times more likely to start than the children of a non-smoking mum.

If this was not worrying enough, evidence suggests that smoking is once again increasing in young women - exactly the people who are or might become mums.

There have been a number of adverts on the television recently aimed at making adults think of the effect smoking has on their children.

There are the adverts in which children ask their parent to stop because they don’t want their mummy or daddy to die and an advert that shows just how much invisible smoke there is present if you have a cigarette in a car.

None of these, however, tell of the long-term dangers that smoking poses to children. None of the adverts tell us that children in smoking families are significantly more likely to die of cot death, which they are, they don’t say that many more children of smoking parents are admitted to hospital each year with breathing problems, which they are, and there is never any mention of the fact that children of mothers that smoked while pregnant do less well at school.

So not only do the children of smokers face faring badly in childhood, they will also be more likely to pick up a habit that, on average, will reduce their life expectancy by up to 15 years.

If you knew a parent who chose to risk their child’s health and then encouraged them to die early what would you say to them?

It is known that at least eight out of 10 smokers have already started smoking by the age of 19 and many of these start before 16.

It is in the teenage years that a parent has the greatest influence on a child’s smoking habits. However, there is a little good news (I would not want this article to be just doom and gloom).

If parents stop smoking before a child starts then the chance of the child picking up the habit in the first place falls quite dramatically.

In other words, while the child remains a non-smoker, it’s never too late to stop for their sake.

Stopping smoking is not easy – as a doctor I know that. But what greater reason than your child’s health, future, and even life, could there be to stop?

We doctors have many effective ways to help people give up the cigarettes.

For the sake of the kids please think about stopping and, when you are ready, make an appointment to see a health professional for advice and help on giving up smoking.