Parental Perceptions and Misconceptions of Child Tobacco Smoke Exposure

Laura J. Rosen*, Eimi Lev, Nurit Guttman, Efrat Tillinger, Shira Rosenblat, David M. Zucker, Vicki Myers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Introduction Forty percent of young children worldwide are exposed to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, predominantly by parental smoking. Little is known about why parents regularly expose their children to these risks; perhaps parents underestimate the degree of exposure. Qualitative methods were used to investigate parental perceptions of tobacco smoke exposure. Methods Sixty-five in-depth interviews were conducted with parents of young children in smoking families in central Israel. Parents were asked to explain what "exposure to smoking" meant. Thematic analysis was performed, a conceptual model of perceptions was built, and misconceptions were identified. Results Parents reported that exposure occurs when smoke or smokers are visible, when smoke can be smelled, felt, or inhaled, or when it "reaches" an individual. Conversely, some believed that exposure does not occur in the absence of odor, visible smoke, or smokers or if smoking occurs outdoors or in indoor ventilated environments. Proximity in space and time affected perceptions of exposure; some parents believed that smoke does not spread far but dissipates rapidly. There was some uncertainty regarding whether or not exposure was occurring. Conclusions Awareness of child exposure to tobacco smoke among parents in this study was based on sensory perceptions in the context of the physical environment. The limited capacity of humans to perceive tobacco smoke can lead to misconceptions about exposure. In order to protect children, parents must be convinced that exposure can occur even in situations where they are unable to sense it Implications Parents use sensory perceptions (sight, smell, and feel) in the context of the physical environment to assess whether or not their children are exposed to tobacco smoke. Because 85% of smoke is invisible and the sense of smell is unreliable, assessments based on sensory perceptions cannot provide accurate information about the presence of tobacco smoke. In order to protect children, parents must be convinced that exposure can occur even in situations where they are unable to sense it. The scientific information summarized here about exposure in common situations should be useful in persuading parents to protect their children. Clinical Trial Registration This study is registered as a Phase I study which is part of a larger research endeavor entitled: A program to protect young children from tobacco smoke exposure. Registration number: NCT01335178.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1369-1377
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - 25 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. All rights reserved.


  • Second-hand smoke
  • assessment of exposure
  • children
  • parents
  • perceptions of exposure
  • tobacco smoke exposure


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