The other day, a friend of mine was telling me about a recent trip she took to the park with her preschoolers.

"Two women were sitting on the bench by the slide, chain-smoking," she complained. "They must've gone through an entire pack in the time we were there."

"I would have said something," I told my friend. A park may be a public, outdoor place, but I still don't want people blowing smoke all over my children. Neither does my friend.

"But they had their own kids," she added.

Oh. That complicates things. While I might have the guts to ask a stranger not to smoke near my children, especially given that my youngest is only two months old, what if the stranger is also a parent? Suddenly my request smacks of one-upmanship - or should I say, one-upmomship, that smug, I'm-a-better-mother-than-you attitude that turns my stomach. Is there a way to ask another mother not to smoke near your children, without implicitly accusing her of being a bad mom?

I'm not sure that there is. "I probably wouldn't have said anything," I finally concluded.

Coincidentally, that afternoon I read a Chicago Sun-Times article about a study that found that smoking is more harmful to women than it is to men: "A study presented Monday at the American Thoracic Society's annual meeting in San Diego found that women developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at an earlier age and after fewer years of smoking than men." The article reports that women smokers have a greater loss of lung function, again even after fewer years of smoking, than their male counterparts. Researchers are looking both at lung size - women have smaller lungs - and at hormones, specifically estrogen, to try and understand why.

Despite recent strides to curb the harmful effects of secondhand ...

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