“Willful blindness: You are responsible if you could have known and should have known something that instead you strove not to see.” Margaret Heffernan
Breastfed, bathed and clothed in neutral gray organic pajamas, covered with a tender blue hypoallergenic blanket, a baby sleeps peacefully and trustingly in a grey bassinet cradle that is close enough for Mom to keep a watchful eye while she and four friends enjoy an at-home girl’s night out that includes drinks and smokes.
Who is this baby? Could be one of approximately 1,200 children (six months to four years) referred to in a study published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco (December 5, 2018) in which “15% were found to have levels of Cotinine, a byproduct of the body’s breakdown of nicotine, comparable with what would be found in an adult smoker.”
The American Heart Association, CDC (Center for Disease Control) and Cleveland Clinic among others say second-hand smoke (SHS) contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds, of which 200 to 400 hundred are toxic and approximately 70 are “known” to cause cancer.
Assuming only two of the four women are smokers and each smoked three cigarettes during the evening, this baby whose Mother is “keeping a watchful eye” is inhaling a minimum of 14,000 chemicals, 400 toxins and 140 cancer causing agents.
Newborns, say Harvard School of Public Health, exposed to SHS by parents (and other caregivers) are at higher risk for attention deficit, hyperactivity and other developmental disorders. According to The American Lung Association and others, exposed babies are at increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), experience acute respiratory infections and frequent buildup of fluid in middle ear.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that preliminary studies show a possible link between SHS exposure and later-in-life cancer. The American Heart Association report that exposed children can have early stiffening and narrowing of the arteries causing premature cardiovascular disease. Other possible risk factors are emphysema, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance – a precursor to diabetes.” The (ADA) American Dental Association has identified a “moderate risk of increase in cavities in the teeth of exposed babies.
What is this smoke? SHS is (1) the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and other tobacco products (2) the exhaled smoke which is said to contain more toxins than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.
Third Hand Smoke (THS) is the invisible and unavoidable residue that remains in the environment on surfaces (skin, hair, clothing, toys, bedding, furniture, utensils, walls, floor, food, etc.) after tobacco has been smoked. This smoke accumulates and penetrates. As reported in the Public Housing Smoke-Free Report, the effects of smoke in units occupied by long-term smokers has penetrated the sheetrock and is “so bad,” the walls cannot just be treated and resealed. So, in addition to the SHS inhaled by the baby comfortable and protected under its hypoallergenic blanket, it will, long after girl’s night out is over, ingest at
least another two hundred Fifty (250) chemicals left behind in the form of THS.
There is unquestionable agreement among a broad spectrum of experts and interest groups that there is no acceptable level of smoke to which people, regardless of age, can be exposed. It is this agreement that led to state-wide comprehensive smoke-free laws to ensure non-smoking adults that they are protected from SHS and THS in public and private places while they do business, eat, learn, socialize, travel, work and chill.
This is not to say children do not derive any benefit from this law. But what good is it to 37% of America’s children who are inhaling smoke in places where they sleep, eat, learn, play, travel and chill? What difference does it make when their respiratory and brain health, like that of the breast fed, baby wrapped in the tender blue hypoallergenic blanket (and no doubt will be secured in a Raven HX car seat for travel),has already been compromised even though he has lived only 135 days of his 79-year life expectancy (based upon 2015 trends)?
It was 1964 when the first surgeon general ‘s report was issued on the danger of cigarette smoke. Fifty-four (54) years later we have failed to fully protect children from SHS and THS in their home and in automobile in which they travel. And now, they face another smoking threat: Marijuana
This writing is not, as stated in a June 1, 2014 article in the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) News, “Whether marijuana is beneficial to the sick or whether people should have the freedom to choose for themselves.” It is about the question posed by the author, “What About the Children?” Children exposed to marijuana smoke “breathe in 400-plus toxins. And what if they live or interact with adults who are both cigarette and marijuana smokers?
It is prompted by conversations I had with teachers, a school nurse, parents and school administrators who are concerned about the frequency with which adults, who between 7 and 9 a.m., are bringing preschool children to school or coming to elementary and high schools with or regarding their children “wreaking” with the smell of Loud Marijuana. This raises questions about how the toxic load these children are carrying dictates their behavior and their learning experience that day.
If, let us say, the results of studies on children’s exposure to marijuana smoke are only partially true, these children may begin their school day with what is called “Minor” effects that can last from between two (2) hours and one (1) day and may include “drowsiness and lethargy followed by lack of coordination, irritability and confusion.”
When children come to school from homes and/or in cars that has exposed them to SHS every child and adult in the classroom can experience the effects. So, school which is thought to be a smoke-free-zone where children, especially the very young, will be shielded for a specific number of hours each day become yet another place where their health and development are at risk.
What to do?
Ask and answer honestly the question Heffernan puts to us in Willful Blindness: What are the forces at work that makes us deny the big threats that stare us in the face? Without answers to this question and the genuine support that comes with it, school personnel will not know what to do officially. I am paraphrasing but was told about a school that posted a sign telling parents not to come in the building if they smell like Loud marijuana. Although not ideal, this is one option. It is an attempt to deter. But, it is I think, also the kind of action taken when leaders know something must be done but given factors such as racism, implicit bias, inequality in education, the importance of welcoming and engaging parents as partners, Politics, and uncertainly about organizational, board and community support they are equally or maybe more concerned about capsizing the boat they will rock.
What do we know?
Exposure to tobacco smoke including medical marijuana, e-cigarettes and vaping is a threat to a child’s physical health and brain development
“Lower income, less education, frequent residential moves and fluctuations in the number of adults within the home is associated with high smoke exposure.”.
Parents love, care for and want the best for their children. Many, even some who are attempting to keep their home and automobiles smoke-free, face challenges from family members, house mates, friends, and acquaintances; some of whom have had life-long smoke exposure.
Some parents who are working diligently to safeguard their children from smoke have misconceptions about the source of SHS and its impact. In her Dissertation Head Start Parent Perspective on Child Exposure to Secondhand Smoke in the Home (2018), Dr. Christiana Abani Bekie reports, “More and more of them started to say, ‘Oh, no, we don’t smoke tobacco – we only smoke marijuana because that’s natural.” Others writers confirmed misconceptions of parents who said children are not exposed when a car window is down. Or I only smoke after the children go to bed. Responses of parents with whom I spoke included my children eat healthy and take their vitamins every day or I spray the house, keep air freshener in the car or air the house out.
Some parents, relatives and service providers distrust the science. This was courageously expressed by E.G. Fowler, Executive Director of Northwest Regional Housing Authority. “…I smoked too. I didn’t really believe what I had been hearing about the dangers of secondhand smoke. I thought it was all hype…” Case in point – a parent told me of a relative scheduled to be drug tested for employment who used the urine of a pre-school relative and still failed. This is consistent with a 2016 study that reported THC found in the urine of children exposed to second hand marijuana smoke.
Where to start? Identify, work with and learn from partners
PHAs (Public housing agencies), public and charter schools, Head Start and other early childhood programs provide services to the same populations. As of July 31,2018, all public housing in the country is required to implement HUD’s Smoke-Free Policy. This means no smoking is allowed in living or work spaces, common areas or on the grounds. (A PHA can establish a smoking area outside but must follow specific and strict guidelines.) Their report, Implementing HUD’s Smoke-Free Policy – A Guidebook) which speaks to the challenges, including resistance, also describes their process and the partners with whom they are working to engage and support tenants and employees in changing their thinking and their behavior.
DEHSU (Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit: The University of Illinois School of Public health and Stroger Hospitals are Affiliate. PEHSU “work with health care professionals, parents, schools and community groups, and others to provide information on protecting children and reproductive-age adults from environmental hazards. They also work with Federal, State, and local agencies to address children’s environmental health issues in homes, schools, and communities. The basic services of the PEHSU includes outreach, education and training
Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Smoking Cessation Leadership Program whose mission is “to decrease smoking rates and increase the number of health professionals who help smokers quit by leading smoking-cessation education and advocacy efforts across the country.”
According to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 70% of American Smokers want to quit. Six percent succeed. Smokers with college degrees have an eleven percent success rate as compared with three percent of smokers with less than 12 year of schooling. Most smokers do not participate in smoking cessation programs and activities.
Promote the use of Apps such as QuitSmokeFree.gov and LiveHelpCancer.gov. `
Using what brain science tells us about what we pay attention to and why, engage parents and other partners in developing an educational media campaign around, “What About the Children?”
Healthy People 2020 Initiative has a tobacco control objective to substantially reduce the number of children, and adult exposed to SHS. But, because drivers’ response to voluntarily stop smoking when children are in cars has not yield meaningful results, the Public Law Health Center does not believe that objective can be reached without legislation. To this end, seven states (California (2001) Arkansas (2006) Louisiana (2006) Maine (2008) Utah (2013) Oregon (2014) Vermont (2014) Virginia (2016) and Puerto Rico have passed a law that demonstrates their commitment to provide their children comprehensive protection from SHS and THS. On July 1, 2019, Indiana will become the ninth State.
And “The Land of Lincoln?” Well. on January 21, 2014, State Senator Ira Silverstein proposed Senate Bill 2654. The bill as enacted by the states (and Puerto Rico) mentioned above would “fine Illinois motorist caught smoking up to $100 (miscellaneous offense) when there are passengers under eighteen in the car. “An American Lung Association representative testified that toxic levels of smoke in cars can be far greater than in homes.” The proposal was approved by a Senate health Committee. However; State Senator Patricia Van Pelt who represents westside neighborhoods including the West Loop, Little Italy and Garfield park, spoke to concerns expressed by some other black legislators and a lobbyist for the African-American Family Commission: “The law might be used by dishonest police to hassle African-American Drivers. I understand and agree with the health goal of the bill but we are constantly harassed all the time. It doesn’t matter that I am a senator. I’m harassed. It doesn’t matter what my son is doing, He’s harassed. I feel that the suffering that a child may have as a result of smoke is far less than what happens when they lose their parents.” (Reported in the News-Gazette)
March 4, 2014 the Bill was amended to say only the driver of the vehicle may be ticketed for the offense and motorcycles and convertible motor vehicles in open-air or top down mode are exempt from this provision.
July 11, 2014 the bill was referred to assignment (Senators Clayborn Jr., Harmon, Lightford, Althoff, Righter)
January 13, 2015 the status was reported as Session Sine Die meaning there is no definitive day for reconvening at a hearing. In plain English, it is dead.
On January 1, 2019 Senate Bill 2514 became law allowing state law enforcement agencies to enforce the Smoke-Free Illinois Act and charge violators a civil penalty ranging from $100 to $2,500.00. This, in case there is any doubt, is our state legislators’ answer to the question, What about the children?