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How women protect their children from environmental tobacco smoke: a smoldering issue Secord, Sharon Anne


A growing number of research studies conclude that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) has an overwhelming effect on the health of children causing 400,000 episodes of childhood sickness each year in Canada. The home is the predominant site of exposure, and maternal smoking is a primary source of ETS exposure in young children. Little is known or reported about maternal efforts to protect children from ETS. This situation poses a challenge to find ways to assist women in protecting their children from ETS. The purpose of this grounded theory study was to describe the process women use to protect their children from ETS. Open-ended interviews were conducted with nine mothers who smoked or were in contact with people who smoked. The findings of this study indicated that protecting children from ETS was a complex three-phase process that involved "avoiding the judgemental gaze". In the first phase, starting out with good intentions, the women established rules to protect their children from ETS and projected themselves as "good mothers". The rules were successfully applied but in the course of everyday life, circumstances presented that tested and sometimes weakened the women's resolve to abide by their rules. In the second phase, making exceptions, rules were revised to accommodate frequently occurring transgressions or replaced with less, restrictive guidelines to appease others' needs to smoke and to be "socially acceptable". The new rules were a significant departure from the women's initial good intentions creating contradictions that they could not ignore. In the third phase, dealing with contradictions, the women used several strategies to manage the dissonance they experienced as a result of their transgressions: seeking agreement from others, minimizing the effects of ETS, hiding their smoking, ignoring health information, explaining addiction, and living in hope. The process described in this study extends our understanding of how women protect their children from ETS and provides some directions for supporting women in the challenges and difficulties they encounter.

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