Caregiver perceptions of children's risks associated with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke
Coloff, Kelly Ann
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The detrimental health effects of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke are well researched and documented. Environmental tobacco smoke exposure has especially toxic effects on the respiratory health of young children. Children exposed to larger doses and for longer periods of time may suffer more severe consequences. Despite this compelling scientific data, evidence suggests that adults do not accurately recognize the risks of environmental tobacco smoke exposure. Therefore, children continue to be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in their home environments. Through clean air legislation in all 50 states, environmental tobacco smoke exposure is partially regulated in public places. This does not, however, protect children from threats of environmental tobacco smoke exposure in private residences. The purpose of this study was to describe how caregivers of rural-dwelling children perceive the children's risks associated with environmental tobacco smoke. Two aspects of the Health Belief Model, perceived susceptibility and perceived severity, were utilized in evaluating caregiver risk perceptions related to environmental tobacco smoke exposure. Data were selected from survey results gathered through the Environmental Risk Reduction through Nursing Intervention and Evaluation (ERRNIE) project. Survey results for rural, low-income caregivers (n = 31) residing in Gallatin County, Montana were included in this analysis.The scores reflected in the survey results indicate that knowledge regarding environmental tobacco smoke exposure risks is moderate in this population. Caregivers sense that environmental tobacco smoke may be harmful, but they do not report a high level of concern regarding the detrimental effects of environmental tobacco smoke exposure for their own children. Data from this study is consistent with other documented research suggesting that, despite available information, caregivers do not accurately perceive the true severity of environmental tobacco smoke exposure. The results of this descriptive study, nested within the larger ERRNIE project, indicate the need for further studies encompassing a larger sample size and an expanded geographic range. This study directs the focus of interventions at modifying risk perceptions of environmental tobacco smoke exposure to promote behavior change. Empowering caregivers with knowledge that may lead to behavior change is the key to enabling children to thrive in healthy environments.