Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Puffing mums are toxic

Measures urged to protect babies from toxic residue on clothes, hair and skin.

Suzy Shortland with baby Erica Shortland-Theodore. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Suzy Shortland with baby Erica Shortland-Theodore. Photo / Kellie Blizard

Parents of newborn babies are being told to wear smoking jackets and not touch their child for up to half an hour after having a cigarette - to protect the babies from smoke residue.

The dangers of firsthand smoke from cigarettes was first to be hit by health authorites, then secondhand smoke for nonsmokers around the fumes.

Now hospitals are cracking down on thirdhand smoke, the toxic contamination that remains after a cigarette is extinguished.

An article in the American Academy of Pediatrics warns children are uniquely susceptible to the toxic and carcinogenic particles in tobacco smoke. Now health workers are introducing measures for smoking carers and visitors to protect sick babies from toxins trapped on clothes, hair and skin.

Counties Manukau smokefree programme manager Vicki Evans said patients were supported to be smokefree but South Auckland hospitals followed national guidelines for parents who smoked with newborns in hospital.

"We recommend parents wait at least 20 minutes and wash their hands before touching their baby after having a cigarette, and wear protective clothing which is then removed after smoking." Parents were told the only way to totally protect a baby was not smoking.

However, a leading quit-smoking advocate says enforcing thirdhand smoke measures do little to protect children in the long run.

Auckland University Tobacco Control Research Centre director Dr Marewa Glover said: "If you want to protect children, stop smoking altogether. A smoking jacket won't help."

Such practices gave smokers an easier choice and sent a message that you would be all right by washing your hands.

Nonsmoking mum Suzy Shortland was given written instructions about smoking carers and family when baby Erica was admitted to Middlemore Hospital's neonatal unit last December. They included wearing a jacket or gloves when they smoked, washing hands after cigarettes, and a recommendation smokers did not hold or kiss a baby within half an hour of having a cigarette.

She said she discouraged family members from smoking around home but she drew the line at waiting 30 minutes to cuddle an upset baby.

Said Shortland: "If she's crying, it all goes out the window."

Mum of five Brooke Te Maari said she insisted her partner showered and changed clothes before any close contact with their babies. She decided the residue left after smoking was harmful to her young family and instigated a strict house rule designed to protect the children.

A spokesman for the Waitemata District Health Board said staff at Waitakere and North Shore Hospitals routinely informed parents about precautions to protect babies in the Special Care Baby Unit from thirdhand cigarette fumes.

A spokesman for the Auckland District Health Board said the board did not enforce thirdhand smoke protection measures in any of its hospitals.

- Herald on Sunday

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