MORE than 10,000 children in County Durham are still being exposed to toxic secondhand smoke in the home, new figures have revealed.

Fresh, the North-East's programme to combat smoking in the region which has among the worst rates of smoking-related illnesses – has revealed at least one in ten of the county's children - of which there were 100,200 in 2013 - face having to inhale the toxic fumes on a daily basis.

Leading County Durham hospital doctors said they were seeing the results of parents smoking in the home of youngsters "too often".

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Fresh has launched the Secondhand Smoke is Poison campaign today, which is being supported by the British Lung Foundation (BLF).

The campaign is warning smoking in the home exposes not just smokers 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.

Campaigners said 85 per cent 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 others.

Secondhand smoke can cause several 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.

Children are also more vulnerable because they breathe faster than adults so inhale more of the chemicals.

Fresh director Ailsa Rutter, 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.

“Smokers we have talked to felt this was important information that people needed to know, even if these facts are shocking. This isn’t about a person’s choice to smoke, but being clear that if they aren’t thinking about quitting, then taking it right outside is the best way to ensure they don't put their family’s health at risk."

Dr Maria Willoughby, consultant pediatrician at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, added: "Breathing in secondhand smoke is harmful to people from all age groups, but children are especially vulnerable as their lungs are still developing and they breathe faster than adults, so inhale more of the harmful poisons. There is no safe level of exposure.

"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."

This is the second time Fresh has teamed up with the BLF to launch a major campaign aimed at raising awareness of the risks of tobacco smoke, following the Every Breath campaign in 2011 which called for the law preventing smoking in cars with children, which was introduced in 2015.

Dr Penny Woods, BLF chief executive said: “We campaigned successfully for legislation to stop people smoking in cars with children, where concentrations of smoke can be 11 times higher than found previously in the average smoky pub.

“Unfortunately, some people continue to smoke in other environments, not realising that the fumes raise the risk of severe asthma attacks and respiratory infections among children.

“Increasing awareness of these dangers through vital educational campaigns, like this one, is the key to helping people protect their families’ health.”

For more information, visit smokefreefamilies.co.uk