Adults who do not smoke and wish to avoid exposure of secondhand smoke can put in place several strategies to make themselves safe.
They can hold their breath while passing by smokers in the street and eat inside restaurants that prohibit smoking.
But what about the fate of children?
Sadly, they are at the mercy of smokers – and there are several situations like baby sitters, teachers, and even parents.
It is true the number of smokers is on the decline but children are chronically exposed to second hand smoke.
The dangers of second hand smoke are well established. Statistics say passive smoking is responsible for thousands of deaths among non-smokers that include scores of children.
Yet, the greatest danger is for unborn babies.
If the father smokes it means passive smoking for the pregnant mother and this can lead to congenital heart defects in the baby.
According to a doctor, “Smoking is teratogenic, that means it can hurt the development of an embryo or the fetus”.
Research findings are frightening to say the least.
The smoke from tobacco contains nearly 4000 chemicals, most of which are harmful.
Among these, 50 can cause cancer.
Medical professionals say babies who live with smokers have a high risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Researches also point to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) negatively impacting pregnancies resulting in low birth weight neonates.
Low birth weight is a foremost health issue in our country with prevalence close to 30 percent.
There is no any doubt that in India women smokers are negligible. Yet they are exposed to the ill effects of passive smoking at their home during pregnancy.
In India, besides cigarettes, bidis are also common. They are widely smoked by people belonging to the lower economic strata.
Bidis are made by enclosing sun-dried tobacco in leaves. These are as harmful as regular cigarettes.
The unfortunate part is very few women in India know the difference between active and passive smoking, although they are aware that tobacco smoke is harmful to the fetus. Nor do women take any preventive steps.
Effect of certain medications on pregnancies
Besides tobacco smoke, certain medications can also negatively impact the fetus.
It is true medication or drugs play an important role in improving the health of the populace. However, medication needs to be safe and used sensibly.
According to doctors, drugs unless they are absolutely essential should be avoided during pregnancy.
Unfortunately this may not be always possible because pregnant women may need treatment on a continuous basis for conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or asthma.
Moreover, during pregnancy new problems can crop up and the existing ones may get aggravated, such as migraine.
As a Lady gynecologist pointed out, “In my experience, nearly 10 percent pregnant women need medication due to chronic ailments.”
The very fact that certain drugs are harmful during pregnancy is a big challenge for medical professionals.
In India, drugs are easily available over the counter, and because of inadequate medical care and/or ignorance, more and more women use drugs for self medication.
Hence the threat for adverse drug reactions always exists.
What is the answer?
Doctors and clinicians can counsel patients, especially pregnant women, with accurate and updated information on the risks and benefits of using certain drugs during pregnancy.