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Parents Who Smoke Contribute to More Than 6,200 Childhood Deaths a Year, Says New Study


August 1997

Parents who smoke contribute to preventable deaths of at least 6,200 children a year, according to a study published in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (C. Andrew Aligne, MD and Jeffrey J. Stoddard, MD, "Tobacco and Children: An Economic Evaluation of the Medical Effects of Parental Smoking," Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, July 1997, pp 648-653; Steve Sternberg and wire reports, "Parents' smoking is a factor in children's behavior and deaths," USA Today, July 15, 1997, p. 10D).

According to the study, 2,800 deaths a year are attributable to low birth weight caused by mothers who smoke during pregnancy. The researchers also attribute 2,000 deaths a year to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) caused by second-hand smoke; 1,100 deaths a year caused by respiratory infections; 250 deaths annually caused by fires started by cigarettes or matches; and another 14 deaths due to asthma. "More children are killed by parental smoking than by all unintentional injuries combined," the study says.

"Although the principal implication of a tobacco-free society would be the improved health of the public, there may also be economic benefits to decreasing smoking by parents," the authors comment. The authors conclude that "at least 8% of total pediatric medical spending may be attributable to parental smoking." Parental smoking results in $4.6 billion in direct annual expenditures and $8.2 billion in loss of life, according to the study. According to the authors, financial pressure on tobacco companies would "make poisoning children less profitable." One suggestion for such financial pressure "would be a product liability class-action suit against the cigarette companies on the part of children harmed by tobacco. The cost of illness evaluation in this article could be looked on as an estimate of damages."