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Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Read the US Surgeon General's Report How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease

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Environmental > Health Effects

Children learn best when they feel well. For children with sensitive airways, air
quality can make the difference between being in class or being in a hospital
emergency room. The link between air quality and health is now as well appreciated as the link between health and school success.

Children and Pollution
Children have a special vulnerablity to pollution due to their hand-to-mouth behaviors, immature immune systems, and faster metabolism, which results in greater pound-for-pound intake of food, water and air. The national asthma rate (2006) for children (0-17) is 9.3%, for adults, 7.3%. Inner-city asthma rates are significantly higher. In some NYC neighborhoods as much as 25% of children have been diagnosed with asthma.

What health or learning problems are linked to air pollution?
The most common health symptoms attributable to air pollution include, but are not limited to:

  • irritations of eyes, nose, throat
  • dry mucous membranes and skin
  • mental fatigue, headache, sleepiness
  • airway infections, cough
  • hoarseness, wheezing
  • nausea, dizziness
  • redness, flushing of the face or skin rashes
  • unspecific hypersensitivity reactions

Sick Building Syndrome
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a combination of ailments (a syndrome) associated with an individual's place of work (school, office building, factory, etc.) or residence. Some common complaints are rashes, nausea, headaches, joint pain, itchy eyes, tight chest, or congestion. How to tell if a child is affected by polluted indoor air at school? Ask these questions:

  • Does (he) go to school healthy and return home sick or deeply fatigued?
  • Does (he) have more frequent or severe asthma attacks on school days?
  • Are any of (his) friends coming home with health complaints?
  • Is the school under renovation or seriously overcrowded?
  • Was the school built in a wet area or on contaminated ground?
  • Do school air vents draw in fumes from traffic or nearby businesses?

Asthma and Tailpipe Fumes
Indoor and outdoor environmental triggers worsen asthma symptoms. Research has shown that excessive exposure to diesel exhaust and secondhand smoke can cause asthma attacks and may even cause asthma. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the downtown area of the city was closed to private vehicles. Acute asthma care visits to clinics and hospitals decreased by about 40%.

Asthma and Secondhand Tobacco Smoke (ETS)
There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. ETS is involuntary exposure. Every year it 1-in-8 deaths from lung cancer are in non-smokers. ETS especially hurts children who are more likely to suffere from pneumonia, bronchitis, inner ear infection, and asthma. There are more than 7000 toxic chemicals in every puff, including >250 classified as harmful, and >50 known to cause cancer. So-called third-hand smoke clings to clothing and furniture.

Learn about efforts to protect children by making NYC smoke-free.









Follow along on the YouTube Walk-Around Video. (9 min.)

• Classroom
• Cafeteria
• Gymnasium
• Bathrooms
• Outdoors

Member schools can find the Walk-Around Checklist and Solutions Guide in the online School Resource Center.