In Tennessee, 488,000 children are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes each year, contributing to the $5.5 billion spent annually in the U.S. on health care related to secondhand smoke, according to a Wednesday presentation at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital.
"The only way to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure is to eliminate parental smoking," said pediatric resident Dr. Jennifer Williams at the event. Her lecture aimed to help local pediatricians and pediatric residents at the hospital effectively broach the topic of tobacco cessation with young patients and their parents.
Pediatricians typically have a short amount of time to cover the topic of smoking with patients and their parents, presenters said. The presentation highlighted tips and information that four of Erlanger's pediatricians gained at a national conference on tobacco cessation.
Those methods include offering specific cessation tools and focusing on the health of a smoker's child as the primary reason for quitting.
In opening remarks at the event, Mayor Ron Littlefield said that more than 20 years ago, when he was elected as Chattanooga's public works commissioner, he created a stir when he declared that no one would be allowed to smoke in the public works offices in City Hall.
"It was like I had kicked someone's dog or committed some unspeakable act of defiance," he said. "That's how far we've come."
Second-year pediatric resident Jon Boroughs, who attended the lecture, said the tips were helpful to doctors in attendance. He said he usually "jumps right in" when talking to parents who are smokers about quitting, and many respond positively.
However, he said, "that doesn't mean they're going to do anything about it."
A growing cultural intolerance of smoking will do more to curtail the habit than warnings of medical hazards, said Jay Collum, coordinator of tobacco education and control at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
"We've tried for 35 or 40 years to scare people with medical consequences of smoking and, frankly, it hasn't worked," he said. "It has to be inconvenient, expensive and socially unacceptable (to smoke.) Those are things that will finally, maybe, change the culture."
In Tennessee 25 percent of high school students use tobacco and more than 22 percent of high school males use smokeless tobacco products, Dr. Williams said.