The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Protecting Baby from Smoke

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Health authorities have labored tirelessly to persuade mothers to protect their infant children from second-hand smoke. The success of these labors may be inferred from a study recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDCP). That success appears particularly pronounced among married mothers, who are especially likely to prohibit smoking in the house.

The CDCP researchers have good reason to investigate the patterns that protect babies from second-hand smoke. “Exposure to secondhand smoke,” they explain, “increases risk for infant illness and death.” More specifically, the researchers stress that for infant children second-hand smoke translates into “increased risk for acute respiratory infections, asthma attacks, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.” And though they take satisfaction in “declines in the prevalence of adult smoking and smoking after delivery among US women with infants,” the researchers lament that “exposure to secondhand smoke among infants and children is [still] high.”

The researchers naturally recognize that “a complete smoking ban in the home decreases secondhand smoke exposure among children.” Consequently, they consider it desirable to identify the educational, social, geographic, and demographic characteristics of the mothers most likely to forbid smoking in their homes. Those characteristics emerge after careful statistical analysis of data collected between 2004 and 2008 for 41,535 women who had recent live births in five disparate states (viz., Arkansas, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington). Among the maternal characteristics receiving particular attention from the researchers is marital status: the researchers identify “unmarried mothers” as one of the groups least likely to enforce a ban on smoking in their homes and note that such bans were significantly more common among married mothers (p < 0.001).

The researchers are understandably worried about the mothers—disproportionately unmarried—who do not prohibit smoking in their homes. The researchers note that among “these women, half are current smokers, likely exposing their infant to second- and third-hand smoke (i.e., tobacco smoke that remains in clothes, hair, and surroundings after a cigarette is extinguished).” The researchers sensibly conclude their study with a call for “targeted efforts among groups of women who are least likely to have complete smoke-free-home rules.” Since unmarried women constitute one of the most visible of these groups, perhaps it is also time for serious reflection on the cultural patterns that undermine wedlock as the safeguard of infant health—and a great deal more.

(Falicia A. Gibbs et al., “Smoke-Free-Home Rules Among Women with Infants, 2004-2008, Preventing Chronic Disease 9 [2012]: E186.)