Many parents don’t enforce rules about exposing their children to secondhand smoke at home or outside the home, a new study suggests.

Despite health warnings about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure for children, researchers found that a large portion of parents don’t restrict smoking at home, in the car, or at a restaurant.

The study showed that 40 percent of parents and guardians surveyed in New York and New Jersey don’t have rules to limit their children’s secondhand smoke exposure at home, and more than 50 person of family cars may expose children to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand Smoke Harms Children

Researchers say secondhand smoke is classified as a Class A environmental carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and is especially harmful to children, according to the World Health Organization. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases children’s risk of lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as ear infections and worsening of asthma.

In the study, which appears in the spring issue of Families, Systems & Health, researchers surveyed 1,770 parents and guardians who were waiting for their child’s appointment with a pediatrician in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.

The participants were asked about whether they enforced rules such as “Only adults can smoke,” “Adults can smoke, but not around children,” and “No smoking is allowed in my home.”

Secondhand Smoke at Home

In regard to smoking at home, the study showed:

—About 60 percent of all families reported having a smoke-free home.

—Slightly over 20 percent of parents allow adults to smoke in the home.

—Over 50 percent ask people to smoke outside the home rather than inside.

—About 35 percent allow smoking in the home but not around young children.

In general, researchers found Asian parents were least likely to establish home smoking rules.

Families with higher incomes were less likely to endorse rules that restricted smoking but were more likely to have a totally smoke-free home.

People who had never smoked were also more than five times less likely to allow smoking in their home. Having smokers in the home increased the likelihood of rules that allowed restricted smoking.

Secondhand Smoke Outside the Home

Outside the home, the study showed that less than half of the participants forbid smoking in the car or usually sit in the nonsmoking section of restaurants.

Nearly 40 percent of parents say they ask others not to smoke around their children.

Researchers found families with low incomes and ethnic minorities were less likely to have rules that limit their children’s exposure to secondhand smoke outside the home. Families with incomes over $41,000 were more likely to limit secondhand smoke exposure outside the home and report having a completely smoke-free home.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Pyle, S. Families, Systems & Health, spring 2005; vol 23: pp 3-16. News release, American Psychological Association.