Breastfeeding vs. Smoking: Effect on Bystanders

Recently a DJ from an Orlando, FL radio station interviewed a midwife about nursing in public. The DJ would prefer that women not nurse in public, and his questions to the midwife were very anti-breastfeeding in nature. At one point he said something to the effect of, “well if women are allowed to breastfeed anywhere, then smokers should be allowed to smoke anywhere they want.”

Today’s piece is part of a collaborative effort that seeks to demonstrate why smoking in public is not an appropriate analogy for nursing in public (N.I.P.). Please visit the other writers’ sites to learn more. The schedule of posts is as follows:

  • Monday, July 19: Lauren at Hobo Mama gives suggestions on how to deal with either smoking in public or N.I.P.
  • Tuesday, July 20: Annie at PhD in Parenting writes about the public health aspects of smoking and breastfeeding.
  • Wednesday, July 21: Dionna at Code Name: Mama compares legislation on both smoking and breastfeeding.
  • Thursday, July 22: Paige at Baby Dust Diaries discusses the effect on bystanders of smoking versus breastfeeding.
  • Friday, July 23: Our posts will be posted as a whole at, where they serve as a complete resource anytime smoking in public is compared to nursing in public.

We’ve seen this week how to deal with smoking and nursing in public, the cost we all pay for smoking vs. the savings of breastfeeding, and how legislation protects breastfeeding while limiting smoking rights.  Today, I’d like to look at the actual effect of “exposure” to smoking in public vs. nursing in public.

2nd Hand Smoke

You are sitting in your local eatery and a person at the table next to you lights a cigarette.  What’s the big deal, right?  This is a free country after all (assuming smoking is legal in said eatery).  Is there a real, tangible risk to you?

According to the National Cancer Institute yes.

1.  There are more than 4,000 chemicals found in that secondhand smoke wafting over to your table including:

  • arsenic (a heavy metal toxin)
  • benzene (a chemical found in gasoline)
  • beryllium (a toxic metal)
  • cadmium (a metal used in batteries)
  • chromium (a metallic element)
  • ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilize medical devices)
  • nickel (a metallic element)
  • polonium–210 (a chemical element that gives off radiation)
  • vinyl chloride (a toxic substance used in plastics manufacture)

2.  There are immediate effects on your body due to your co-diner’s decision to light a cigarette including;

  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Eye irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing in those already suffering from asthma

Additionally, tobacco smoke exposure has immediate and substantial effects on blood vessels in a way that increases the risk of a heart attack, particularly in people already at risk[1. Barnoya J, Glantz SA (2005). “Cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke: nearly as large as smoking”. Circulation 111 (20): 2684–98.]. Exposure to tobacco smoke for 30 minutes significantly reduces coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy nonsmokers[2. Otsuka R, Watanabe H, Hirata K, et al. (2001). “Acute effects of passive smoking on the coronary circulation in healthy young adults”. JAMA 286 (4): 436–41.].

3.  There are long-term risks associated with secondhand smoke;

  • Approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year among adult nonsmokers in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke[3. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Progress Report 2003. Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004.]
  • In the United States, secondhand smoke is thought to cause about 46,000 heart disease deaths each year[4. California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant: Part B Health Effects, 2005.]
  • Secondhand smoke may increase the risk of breast cancer, nasal sinus cavity cancer, and nasopharyngeal cancer in adults, and leukemia, lymphoma, and brain tumors in children[5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006.]
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more severe asthma

4.  Your Caesar salad will taste like smoke.

2nd Hand Breastfeeding

You are sitting in your local eatery and a woman at the table next to you begins to nurse her child.  Without a cover.  What’s the big deal, right?  This is a free country after all.  Is there a real, tangible risk to you?

In my opinion, yes there is a risk to you.

1.  You run the risk of seeing a human female breast being used in a manner that is not sexual and not serving the purpose of selling a product.  You might be forced to question the objectification of women in our culture.

2.  You run the risk of seeing the natural and standard form of feeding an infant.  You may have to feel strong emotions about your decisions (or someone close to you) to feed your child formula.

3.  You may run the risk of having your young child ask “what is that lady doing?” and you just might have to explain the biological purpose of breasts.  Perhaps you can talk about what makes mammals unique or how breastmilk contains very healthy protective ingredients for the baby (the opposite effect, in fact of the previous smoke rings).

4.  You might have your own personal boundaries of decency crossed.  You may be offended.  You run the risk of being faced with respecting the diversity of thought in our culture and learning to practice tolerance.

4.  However, in all but the most extreme and unusual cases, I can assure you your Caesar salad will not taste like breastmilk.


12 thoughts on “Breastfeeding vs. Smoking: Effect on Bystanders

  1. I love it! I would much rather be next to a mother breastfeeding than someone smoking! It’s awful in this day and age so many people have a problem with feeding your baby with your breast in public. I personally am offended when someone lights up next to me – I do not like my health compromised because you have a bad habit. Bleh


  2. “1. You run the risk of seeing a human female breast being used in a manner that is not sexual and not serving the purpose of selling a product. ”

    THAT cracks me up! Awesome way to put it!

    ~ Off to inflict others with Second Hand Breastfeeding…


  3. Pingback: Smoking, Breastfeeding and Public Health | PhD in Parenting

  4. Ok, the Caesar salad points were the clincher! 🙂

    That was marvelous. I love your “risks” of secondhand breastfeeding.

    I just want to say I’m truly horrified by the toll of secondhand smoke on innocent bystanders, particularly children. Thanks for putting the numbers out there.


  5. Too funny on the one hand but too sad on the other. Being a Libra, I see things from both sides and think it is really sad that I would have to defend my decision to nurse my child to my own child twenty years later and let her know that I am not judgmental about it. We in LLL as Leaders go through a lot of training to help mothers breastfeed without judging them and whatever happens that best suits their family. We are not paid and I happened to become a part of this empowering organization. I received the support I needed, kept my brain ready to learn a number of important science facts along with important brain research which I started in college as a zoology major. I loved my years within that wonderful organization and made many lifelong friends.


  6. In the late ’70’s & early 80’s I breast fed my children & did so in public. I did put a lightweight blanket over my shoulder or simply made sure my blouse covered my breast. I am a private person & didn’t feel the need to expose my breast, nipple & all, to the whole world. Never once did I have a negative experience with others’ reactions or attitude.

    I find it curious that the whole breastfeeding topic seems to have taken a giant step backwards in the last 30 years.


  7. A big part of why there can be a negative reaction in someone seeing a mother breastfeeding is that is brings up a person’s trauma and loss about not being breastfed. There is a huge nurturance in being breast fed and if that was not something you received, you do not want to be in contact with your pain, hence the negative reaction to breastfeeding by some people.


  8. Sadly, I will never have the chance to breast-feed. But if I were a breast-feeding mother and someone told me it was “obscene” I would hold up any one of THOUSANDS of images of the Madonna nursing Jesus, many of which images are freely visible in churches.

    There was an episode of “What Would You Do?” this morning and one of the segments was about what happens if someone is breast-feeding in public and and is told by a manager to stop. With only a very few exceptions, the mother had the FULL support of everyone in the place. They tried it with three different women: White, African American, and a young white girl. There are only three states in the US where breast-feeding in public is not legal. In Canada, it is against the law to tell someone to stop breast-feeding in pubic.

    It is very easy to not look. Just do it.


  9. I I forgot to mention. When I was born, in 1956, while my mother was recovering from the Caesarian section, the nurse came in with a pill and my Mom took it and then said “What was that for?”

    “Oh, it’s just something to dry up your milk…”

    My Mom was furious “But I want to breast-feed!”

    The nurse looked at her as though she was some sort of hillbilly, “WHy would you want to do THAT!????”

    Luckily, the medication needed to be taken over a few days so one pill didn’t have any effect. But all the nurses treated her like she was some backwoods yokel for ever thinking of breast-feeding.


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