Health chiefs have warned that at least one in 10 North East children are still being exposed to toxic second-hand smoke in their homes.
As part of a new hard hitting by Fresh supported by the British Lung Foundation, doctors say that smoking in the home exposes not just smokers but children and adults to harmful levels of toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide, benzene and cyanide, which creep from room to room and can linger for up to five hours.
About 85% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless but many people are not aware that steps like opening a window, smoking by the back door or smoking in another room does little to protect children and other non-smoking adults.
Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, raising the risks of more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and even meningitis and sudden infant death.
Launching the Secondhand Smoke is Poison campaign, Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “When someone lights a cigarette they are setting fire to a cocktail of chemicals and industrial pollutants.
“These not only go into the lungs and around the body, but into the air as secondhand smoke.
“Every parent wants to protect their children.
“However, many smokers think they’re already doing enough by opening a window or smoking the back door, without realising how poisonous secondhand smoke spreads around the house and lingers long after you can see it or smell it.”
The Royal College of Physicians 2010 report Passive Smoking and Children estimated that secondhand smoke exposure in UK children each year caused over 20,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infection, 120,000 cases of middle ear disease, at least 22,000 new cases of wheeze and asthma, 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and 40 sudden infant deaths - one in five of all cot deaths.
Dr Katherine Eastham, consultant paediatrician at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “Breathing in second-hand smoke is harmful to people from all age groups, but children are especially vulnerable as their lungs are still developing. There is no safe level of exposure.”
Dr Prashant Kumar, consultant paediatrician at the Royal, said: “We see the effects of this on hospital wards too often.
“Babies and children who breathe in smoke are more likely to have problems with asthma attacks and chest infections and need more hospital care and doctors’ appointments.
“Most parents take this seriously when they realise that their smoking may be making their child unwell and want to do something positive about it.”