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October 2006

Secondhand Smoke is a Cause of SIDS

Not merely a risk factor

For years, secondhand smoke exposure was considered a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In June, 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General's report The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke concluded that secondhand smoke is a known cause of SIDS, not simply a risk factor for SIDS.

"The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance," U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Camona was quoted as saying in a press release. "It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults."

The comprehensive scientific report finds that infants who died from SIDS tended to have higher concentrations of nicotine in their lungs and higher levels of cotinine (a biological marker for secondhand smoke exposure) than infants who died from other causes.

In addition, the report found that both babies whose mothers smoked while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from SIDS than babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke.

Secondhand smoke and smoking during pregnancy compromise an infant's health in many ways:

  • Mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant are more likely to have lower birthweight babies, which makes babies weaker and increases their risk for many health problems.
  • Babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant or who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth have weaker lungs than other babies.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes acute lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and young children.

North Carolina's High SIDS Rate

North Carolinians should take special note as the North Carolina SIDS rate exceeds the national average. SIDS is the third leading cause of infant mortality in the state accounting for 10 percent of infant deaths last year. SIDS is the leading cause of death for infants ages 1-12 months. In 2005, 105 infants died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Ways to Help

Health and social service professionals can play a critical role in helping North Carolina families reduce the risks of SIDS. Those who work with pregnant women and families with infants can raise awareness about the potentially deadly consequences of smoking and secondhand smoke.

The North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation created tips to help women protect their babies from secondhand smoke. The Foundation asks that you share these tips with families.

Pregnant Women Can Keep Secondhand Smoke Away By:

  • Letting family members, friends, and co-workers know that breathing secondhand smoke affects their developing baby.
  • Asking others to keep their home and car smoke-free.
  • Going to public places that do not allow smoking.
  • Encouraging employees to create a smoke-free workplace.

Mothers Can Keep Secondhand Smoke Away From Their Babies By:

  • Asking others not to smoke around the baby, including in the car.
  • Choosing a childcare provider or babysitter who does not smoke.
  • Avoiding places where people are smoking.
  • Putting up "No Smoking" signs in the home as a friendly reminder.
  • Asking smokers to wash their hands and change their clothes before holding the baby.

Opens in new window Click here to the U.S. Surgeon General's report regarding smoking and SIDS.

Opens in new window Click here for a brochure about keeping babies safe from secondhand smoke.

Opens in new window Click here for resources to help you quit smoking or call NC Tobacco Quitline
1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Click here to order free educational materials.

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Last updated: November 2006


At a glance

SIDS in NC 2005

Total SIDS Deaths: 105

SIDS Rate: .85 per 1,000 live births

By Gender: 58% Male   42% Female

By Age:  96%   6 months and younger

Mother Smoked While Pregnant: 51%

Source: N.C. State Center for Health Statistics

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