Initiative To Protect Children From Secondhand Smoke

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It's a staggering statistic: 700 million children - almost half of the world's youth - breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke. People who smoke in confined spaces like the home or the car subject others to a dangerous mix of toxins including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and cyanide, even when the windows are open. Second-hand smoke exposes children to chronic health risks:

-- Increases a baby's risk of dying suddenly from unexplained causes

-- Contributes to low birth weight in newborns and harms lung development

-- Causes bronchitis and pneumonia in young adults

-- Increases the risk of ear infections, asthma, coughing and wheezing among school-aged children

These health threats underscore the need for parents to protect the children from secondhand smoke. In the first global initiative of its kind, the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and members around the world will lead an initiative to promote smoke-free environments for children. "I love my smoke-free childhood" launches on World Cancer Day, 4 February, with these messages for parents:

-- Avoid smoking at home or in a car

-- Caution children to stay away from secondhand smoke and places that allow smoking

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-- Teach children there is no safe level of secondhand smoke

-- Do not smoke while pregnant or near someone who is pregnant

-- Use a smoke-free daycare center

-- If you are a smoker, ask your doctor what you can do to stop

-- Become a role model for your child - do not smoke

To back these messages, UICC is publishing a 40-page expert report, "Protecting our children against secondhand smoke".

"I love my smoke-free childhood" is the first focus within the World Cancer Campaign, a five-year cancer-prevention effort launched on World Cancer Day 2007. The Campaign offers parents simple steps to share with children to prevent cancer later in life.

"Forty percent of cancers are preventable through healthy habits. The first step toward prevention is education, starting with parents and children. Every success story means fewer lives lost," says Isabel Mortara, UICC executive director. "Tobacco-related cancers lead the list of preventable deaths and hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year from diseases caused by secondhand smoke. That's why this initiative is so important."

In addition to targeting individuals, the UICC encourages decision makers to put cancer on the public agenda. A growing number of countries have passed 100% smoke-free legislation, banning smoking in all enclosed public places without exception. Ireland was the first country to do so in 2004 followed by the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Uruguay, Bermuda, Bhutan and Iran. Puerto Rico and several U.S. states and cities have also enacted such bans.

"Countries with 100% smoke-free laws should be commended for their legacy to healthier families. In these nations the percentage of children exposed to secondhand smoke has decreased over time," says Dr. Franco Cavalli, UICC president. "While this trend is encouraging, this approach alone will not protect children from secondhand smoke. That's why educating parents is so crucial."

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