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Is Secondhand Smoke Child Abuse?

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Children fill up empty cigarettes packs manually with locally grown tobacco in a small factory in Bangladesh, in this July 2013 file photo.
Children fill up empty cigarettes packs manually with locally grown tobacco in a small factory in Bangladesh, in this July 2013 file photo.

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Doctors have been warning for years that secondhand smoke leads to many types of illness. However, many children around the world live in areas where adults regularly smoke.

A journal called Annals of Family Medicine recently published an article calling for doctors to start treating children's contact with secondhand smoke as abuse. In that case, contact to secondhand smoke would be viewed much like physical abuse or neglect.

The author of the article is a professor at University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Dr. Adam Goldstein says secondhand smoke causes many diseases in children. These diseases include asthma and pneumonia. He adds that no amount of secondhand smoke is safe.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that secondhand smoke can cause serious health problems in children. They say that compared to children who grow up in homes without smokers, children with parents who smoke have smaller lungs and more illnesses.

However, several organizations for smokers' rights in the U.S. say people have the right to smoke in their own homes. These same organizations say that many studies done on the effects of smoking on health, including studies on secondhand smoke, do not use good science.

Fight against tobacco companies

The article about secondhand smoke and children comes at the same time the World Health Organization is increasing calls to fight against tobacco companies.

Dr. Margaret Chan is the director-general of the organization. She says she believes tobacco companies are trying to avoid and even weaken anti-tobacco laws.

Speaking in March at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in the United Arab Emirates, Dr. Chan warned the fight against tobacco companies is going to be difficult. But, she added, "We should not give up until we make sure the tobacco industry goes out of business."

Other leading public health researchers who spoke at the conference called for the sale of tobacco to end by 2040.

A spokesperson for the Altria Group -- which includes Philip Morris, the leading cigarette manufacturer in the U.S. -- did not want to comment on the issue.

Will smoking soon be a thing of the past?

Those who want to see a tobacco-free world wrote about their ideas recently in the British medical journal The Lancet. They say they hope that in thirty years "only five percent of adults around the world will still smoke."

The lead author of the article is Robert Beaglehole from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Mr. Beaglehole said, "A world where tobacco is out of sight, out of mind, and out of fashion -- yet not prohibited -- is achievable in less than three decades from now."

He says such a world will need the full commitment from governments, civil society and international agencies.

Smoking trends around the world

A man smokes a cigarette at Moscow's Red Square June 1, 2013. Russia has banned smoking at schools and universities, museums, sports facilities, hospitals and on public transportation. (FILE PHOTO)
A man smokes a cigarette at Moscow's Red Square June 1, 2013. Russia has banned smoking at schools and universities, museums, sports facilities, hospitals and on public transportation. (FILE PHOTO)

New research released by Kenji Shibuya from the University of Tokyo, Japan and colleagues shows that overall rates of smoking are slowly declining.

However, the use of tobacco is expected to rise over the next few decades in some countries, most notably in Africa and the Middle East.

The number of smokers is also on the rise in New York City in the United States. Numbers from the New York Department of Health show that in 2013 there were more than one million adult smokers in New York City. That is a 14 percent increase from 2010.

By 2015, researchers expect one billion people to be smokers.

About one billion people are also expected to die from smoking and other forms of tobacco over the next century. Most of these deaths will be in low-to-middle-income countries.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Do you think secondhand smoke in the home should be considered child abuse? Or do people have the right to smoke as they wish in their own homes? Let us know how you feel in the comments section.

Anna Matteo wrote this story based on several articles including reports from George Putic and Rosanne Skirble for VOA News and the CDC website.

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Words in This Story

secondhand smoken. smoke from a cigarette, cigar or pipe that can be inhaled by people who are near the person who is smoking

asthman. medical a physical condition that makes it difficult for someone to breathe

pneumonian. medical disease marked by inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by a bacterium, virus, or other infectious agent

commitmentn. a promise to be loyal to someone or something; the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something

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