Children and… Passive Smoke!

It’s been almost 35 years since Joseph A. Califano, Jr.[1], former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) which became the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), announced the government’s Initiative on Smoking and Health.

This was an amazing event, considering so many people in the United States smoked. At that time, people smoked at work, at home, in restaurants, in hospital waiting rooms and movie theaters, in public buildings and even on airplanes. Cigarettes cost in the neighborhood of 50 cents a pack.  Respiratory diseases, lung cancer and heart disease were on the rise, as were the insurance and lost-time costs to employers of sick employees with smoking-related ailments–but there was little discussion of the effects of  “passive smoke” and the damage it inflicts on the very young.

Recently, it struck me how concept-changing that announcement was. Mr. Califano, a lawyer (and former senior partner of the law firm of Williams, Connolly and Califano), on leaving DHEW/DHHS didn’t let the argument stop with his departure from the Carter administration. He took on the big tobacco companies in the real world and aimed in legal battles to change the laws that permitted smoking in public buildings, with the express purpose of lowering the numbers of people who suffer from respiratory ailments due to smoking, including the very young.

On June 21, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unveiled the final graphic warning labels it will print on cigarette packs for sale–a far cry from the mild warning of yore: “The Surgeon General says, “Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.'”

Yet during the past 35 years, it has taken more than mild warnings to get people to focus on what happens to kids in smoking environments, and I’m not sure we haven’t understated the warnings. When out and about, I frequently see young mothers holding baby and a cigarette.

And I wonder, what can they be thinking, and do they know that young children and toddlers are especially sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke? Their bodies are still growing and developing and they breathe faster than adults and therefore inhale proportionately more smoke. So moms and dads who smoke around their kids are essentially setting up their children for possible smoking-related breathing problems.

Research shows that kids who grow up in households where one or both parents smoke have twice the amount of respiratory and lung disorders, and in some cases have been hospitalized due to smoking-related disorders.

They also experience greater absenteeism and there have been studies which suggest that children exposed to more passive smoke may have more behavioral problems than children who are not exposed to passive smoke.  It’s taken more than 35 years to realize that smoking is related to cancer, that smoking causes health problems in formerly healthy individuals.

As parents, caregivers, family members, and babysitters, it’s important that we connect the dots between smoking and respiratory problems, so that eventually people will stop smoking around kids and even find it offensive to smoke around kids, and so that all our kids can expect to grow up with fewer respiratory difficulties than they may be experiencing now, in 2011.

[1] This piece is dedicated to my friend, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., for whom I worked and from whom I learned a great deal about how laws affect the development of American society and the way we think.

A Potpourri of Child Safety Notes!

Flu Vaccinations for Pregnant Women Protect the Child Too

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released a brief announcement about vaccinations for pregnant women and “second-hand” protection for babies in the womb last week.  A recent study appearing in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, has drawn the conclusion that

“Babies of mothers who get flu vaccinations seem to pick up protection in the womb. The study, referenced previously, found this in data on 1,500 babies younger than 6 months who had been hospitalized for flu-like symptoms in the 2002 to 2009 flu seasons. Those babies are too young for their own vaccination, but received protection from their mothers who obtained vaccinations while pregnant.

Safest Place for a Child on a Plane

Did you know that the safest place for a child flying with you on an airplane is not in your lap, but in a child safety restraint system (CRS)? “A CRS is a hard-backed child safety seat that is approved by the government for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft.”  Apparently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also has approved a harness-type restraint for children who weigh from 22 to 44 pounds. This is an alternative to using a hard-backed seat but is approved only for use on aircraft, not for use in motor vehicles.  The FAA urges parents and guardians to secure children in an appropriate restraint based on a child’s weight and size.  According to the FAA, keeping a child in a CRS during the flight is the smartest thing to do.

What’s a Pool Safety Kit?

Recently, published Water Safety-Parts I and II, but we continue to pick up more good tips for parents of kids who are going swimming.  Here are a few things you might want to keep near your residential pool in case of emergency:

Keep a pool safety toolkit near your home pool or spa containing:

  • A first aid kit
  • A pair of scissors to cut hair, clothing or a pool cover, if needed
  • A charged portable telephone to call 911
  • A flotation device.

And what should we, parents, caregivers and babysitters do if we are caring for kids who are in and around the water:

  • Always watch children when they are in or near a pool or spa!
  • Teach children basic water safety and observe those cautions yourself.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Have a portable telephone close by at all times when you or your family are using a pool or spa.
  • If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa right away!
  • Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors and caregivers!

And please have a safe, happy, healthy summer.

Wooden Swing Sets Recalled Due to Fall Hazard!

240,000 (est.) Adventure Playsets Wooden Swing Sets were recalled last week (June 29) by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the manufacturer, Adventure Playsets of Pittsburg, Kansas.  This recall is in addition to the previous recall of Adventure Playsets Swing Sets in November 2009 (which listed 275,000 swing sets in the U.S. and 6,800 swing sets in Canada).

The reason for this recall is that the wood in the posts of the fort sections on the swings can weaken due to rotting, posing a possible fall hazard for a child or children using the swing set.

Adventure Playsets has received more than 500 complaints about the weakened wood used in the Swing Sets, that were manufactured in the U.S.  A report of a fall by a child was received when the ladder failed.

The particular swing sets being recalled include swings, slides and ladders. Each set comes with a fort structure that has green or cranberry colored plastic-coated 2″x 4″ upright wooden posts and a green nylon fabric-covered shade. The sets sold under the brand names: Bellevue, Bellevue II, Belmont, Durango, Durango II, Sedona, Tacoma, Tacoma II, Ventura, Venture II and Yukon, were sold at Academy Sports (the Yukon); Mills and Menards (the Ventura/II) all from 2005 to 2007; Mills (the Belmont) in 2004; Toys-R-Us (the Bellevue/II); and Walmart (the Tacoma/II, Durango/II, and Sedona). The swing sets sold for from $300-$600.

Consumers should stop using the recalled swing sets immediately and contact Adventure Playsets for a free repair kit which will include the appropriate angled or vertical upright posts for each model with instructions for dissembling and reassembling each set.

Consumers should contact Adventure Playsets toll free at (877) 840-9068 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, visit the firm’s website or email the firm

As always, the USCPSC continues to remind consumers that it is illegal to sell or attempt to resell any recalled product.  To view the list of model numbers involved and photos of the various recalled swing sets, go to:

Study Finds Possible Link Between Mothers Taking Antidepressants While Pregnant and Children with Autism!

CNN’s American Morning’s (Christine Romans’) sound bite on a possible link between pregnant mothers taking antidepressants giving birth to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), set off some loud alarm bells in many homes throughout the country.  This morning, CNN’s Romans synopsized a study the results of which signal the possibility that pregnant women taking antidepressants which are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa, may give birth to children with autism.

The lead author of this study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Lisa Croen, PhD, director of autism research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, noted “This is the first study of its kind to look at the association, and the findings have to be interpreted with a lot of caution.” She also noted that causality could not be definitely attributed using the results of a single study.

The study suggests that use of antidepressants during early pregnancy may pose a greater risk of ASD to the child.  In this study of less than 300 children who have ASD, children exposed to the drugs during the first trimester were nearly four times more likely to develop an ASD, compared with unexposed children.

The study’s researchers found that “any exposure to the drugs in the womb increased the risk of ASD diagnosis 2.2-fold, while first-trimester exposure increased the risk 3.8-fold.”  Slightly more than 2 percent of all autism cases among children born in the late 1990s could be attributed to SSRI exposure, Croen and her colleagues estimate.”  And, she says, this percentage could be higher today, “because SSRI use during pregnancy has become more common.” A study in 2005 study found that 6.5 percent of pregnant women were taking SSRIs.

While physicians aren’t quite ready to tell pregnant mothers to stop using antidepressants, the results of this study should be noted and definitely will spawn further research into the possible link between the use of antidepressants by pregnant women and ASD in their offspring. will continue to keep its blog followers posted on the results of additional  research in this possible link between antidepressants and ASD.

Summer Sun… and Sunscreens

Recently, the use of sunscreens for children and adults has been in the news as one might expect this time of year.  On June 14, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an important announcement about the labeling on sunscreens.  Parents may want to know what this change in sunscreen labeling means for them and their families. Sunscreens will soon have to have appropriate labeling as to the actual SPF levels and whether or not a sunscreen is actually “broad spectrum” protection or not.

Parents need to know that some sunscreen products protect against only UVB rays while others protect against UVA (which are more damaging) and UVB rays. The FDA, however, now will require sunscreen manufacturers “to prove their product effectively protects against both forms of dangerous ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) before they can claim to protect against skin cancer and other sun damage, as well as sunburn.

Beginning next summer, parents will be able to purchase sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 that show the words, “broad spectrum”, on the label. (SPF, or sun-protection factor, is represented as a number, such as 15, 30 or 50, indicating the degree of sunburn protection provided by a sunscreen.) SPF is related to the total amount of sun exposure rather than the length of time of sun exposure.

Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says “These changes to sunscreen labels are an important part of helping consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families.”   Dr. Woodcock also noted that “most skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.” “Not only should consumers regularly apply and reapply sunscreens with Broad Spectrum and SPF of 15 or higher, they should also limit sun exposure.”

So, while the FDA is busy regulating sunscreens, parents are busy trying to protect their young children’s skin.  Vince Iannelli, MD, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that there are some basic things parents should do to protect kids against harmful UV (ultraviolet) radiation exposure, and they are:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater, with both UVA and UVB protection;
  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen at one time for a child;
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more if your child goes swimming or perspires;
  • Limit children’s sun exposure and encourage the wearing of hats, sunglasses and other protective clothing when possible! wishes you a safe, healthy, happy and sunny summer!