By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

If you read these articles, in all likelihood you are the parent of young children. So we have a couple of questions to ask you that often remain unasked in polite society. Is there a smoker in your home? Do you smoke?

If so, according to an article in Contemporary Pediatrics by Dr. Dana Best of George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Dr. Sophie Balk of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the smoke that wafts around the house is sufficiently toxic to be causing your children very serious and long-term medical problems, such as lifelong reduction in lung function; increased ear, throat and breathing infections; asthma and more dangerous periods under anesthesia should your children require surgery.

The smoker really has to stop. If it is you, then you know that you really have to stop — for the welfare of your family, of your children.

Consider this:

• Exhaled tobacco smoke contains, among other things, carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide — and nicotine. The addictive qualities of nicotine, enjoyed while you are smoking, make smoking an efficient way to addict your children to smoking.

• Environmental tobacco smoke hits children harder because their higher metabolism causes them to take it into their bodies faster where it can affect developing lungs and other organs.

• Strong evidence links ETS to ever increasing development of asthma symptoms in children and increased rates of lower respiratory (chest) illness, middle ear infection, tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, cough and sudden infant death syndrome.

• Adults exposed to ETS throughout their lives have higher incidences of lung cancer, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Such effects may be even more pronounced in children.

• While it has been shown that if you quit smoking, your lungs will slowly recover, it has also been shown that children in the formative years exposed to ETS lose potential lungpower for life.

It’s hard to quit “cold turkey.” Failure is not a matter of weak will or a bad habit, according to Best and Balk. Nicotine targets brain receptors in the “reward” centers and areas concerned with alertness, arousal and memory. In the process, nicotine changes the way we feel about life. It improves memory, increases alertness, pain endurance and pleasure and reduces hunger. That’s a lot to give up.

But giving up is easier today due to nicotine replacement therapy, devices that allow you to slowly withdraw from the lure of nicotine without polluting the air around you. For stubborn resistance, Best and Balk say that using two nicotine replacement therapies together — such as gum and the patch — sometimes enhances the effect. Be sure to see if your insurance company supports programs for quitting smoking and work with you health care provider to get their advice and support. Check community billboards for classes and company in your effort.

When you become overwhelmed by the task, remember that smoke puts your child’s development at risk. The last thing you want to bequeath to your children is the illness brought by a lifetime addiction to tobacco.

Keeping Kids Healthy

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.