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by Abigail Van Buren

Parents Who Shower Together Can Safely Leave Their Kids

DEAR ABBY: "Smokeless but Outnumbered in Pennsylvania," who dreaded the thought of her heavy-smoking in-laws holding her newborn baby, has a legitimate concern. Many smokers have the mistaken idea that their secondhand smoke is a gas that is "gone with the wind" when the cigarette goes out.

Quite the contrary. Cigarette smoke produces microscopic particles of carcinogenic substances that land on clothing, skin and hair. These particles are stirred up with every movement and drift into the air and can be inhaled by those around them long after the cigarette is out.

People who are subject to secondhand smoke have a four times greater chance of getting lung cancer than those not exposed. As a respiratory therapist who works in pediatric intensive care, I am always outraged when I have a pediatric patient who is struggling to breathe, and Mom and/or Dad and/or relatives come into the room reeking of cigarettes. I try to explain that even though they go outside to smoke, they are bringing particles into the room that have clung to their hair and clothing.

Smokers should take a paper towel and wipe down the windows of their cars. That yellow stain on the paper towel is not a gas but an accumulation of microscopic particles that also lodge in people's lungs.

I would urge "Smokeless" to allow her in-laws to hold her baby only after they shampoo, shower and put on clean clothes since their last cigarette. A baby can't defend itself. If her husband won't, then she has to. -- BOB CRONIN, CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE

DEAR BOB: You have written a powerful letter. If it convinces just one set of young parents to assert themselves on their child's behalf, then it was well worth the space in my column.