Gerber: Passive smoking harms children more than adults

Let me state it upfront: This column is not a manifesto against smoking and those who smoke. I believe that every individual has the right to make personal choices regarding his own health and lifestyle. What I do have an issue with, though, is when those choices and that lifestyle negatively affect the lives of others. Where's there choice in the matter?

Passive smoking, also known as "secondhand smoke," leads to a situation where people who never made the choice to partake in smoking suffer from its consequences. Smoking causes 603,000 deaths per year worldwide. Children make up 165,000 of those fatalities. In 2004, 5.94 million children under the age of five were diagnosed with lower respiratory tract infections caused by secondhand smoke. As many as 1.25 million children developed asthma because of their exposure.

This is not an outcry against smoking in public places. There are enough lawsuits contemplating the issue right now. In general, most smokers I know are quite considerate of others and smoke in locations where nonsmokers will not be affected. That's not my problem.

My problem is the ways in which smoking affects voiceless children who will struggle to play sports, stay active and even perform the simple act of breathing for the rest of their lives because their parents smoke without taking measures to keep their children safe from harm.

There are easy ways to avoid harming your child with secondhand smoke. Don't smoke indoors or in the car, even if the windows are down. Basically, just don't smoke near your children. All pretty common sense, right?

What a lot of people seem to forget, though, is that smoke can infiltrate clothing fibers. Even if you're taking care to smoke outside, you may still be harming your child. If you were to go pick up your child directly after smoking, the child is still being exposed to smoke – this situation can be especially harmful to infants. Holding your infant, lying with the baby on your chest, nursing him – all of these things force the child to inhale the smoke that is embedded into the fabric of your clothing, potentially causing irreversible damage to a developing respiratory system.

Being asthmatic is not fun. Especially not the part when you find out that you have the condition – it usually involves experiencing an asthma attack. You have no idea what is going on and begin having a panic attack. My asthma was not caused by secondhand smoke, as no one in my immediate family smokes. My asthma was inevitable, but what about the 1.25 million children who have asthma just because their parents were not careful about where they smoked? They could have lived regular lives without having to depend on an inhaler.

Once again: This is not a condemnation of smokers, nor is it a public service announcement about remembering to stay 20 feet away from building entrances. It's a reminder that for people who have children or spend a lot of time near them, precautions must be taken in order to shield children from suffering permanently from the consequences of your choices.