Sad statistics regarding smoking in cars with children present

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
secondhand smoke, child abuse, SIDS, cancer, toxic chemicals

A new study reported that exposure of children to cigarette smoke in cars is a significant healthcare issue. Researchers affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts) and Rochester Medical Center (Rochester, New York) published their findings online on November 12 in the journal Pediatrics.

The objective of the study was to determine prevalence and factors associated with strictly enforced smoke-free car policies among smoking parents. The researchers conducted exit interviews with parents whose children were seen in 10 control pediatric practices. Parents who smoked were asked about smoking behaviors in their car and whether they were given any smoke-free car advice at the visit. Parents were considered to have a “strictly enforced smoke-free car policy” if they reported having a smoke-free car policy and nobody had smoked in their car within the past three months.

The investigators found that among 981 smoking parents, 817 (83%) had a car; of these, 795 parents answered questions about their car smoking policy. Of these 795 parents, 29% reported having a smoke-free car policy, and 24% had a strictly enforced smoke-free car policy. Of the 562 parents without a smoke-free car policy, 48% reported that smoking occurred with children present. At the pediatric visit, only a few parents who smoke (12%) were advised to have a smoke-free car. An analysis, which controlled for parent age, gender, education, and race, revealed that having a younger child and smoking 10 cigarettes or less per day were associated with having a strictly enforced smoke-free car policy.


The authors concluded that the majority of smoking parents exposed their children to tobacco smoke in cars. Coupled with the finding of low rates of pediatricians addressing smoking in cars, they noted that their study highlighted the need for improved pediatric interventions, public health campaigns, and policies regarding smoke-free car laws to protect children from tobacco smoke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 21% of all adults (45 million individuals) smoke cigarettes in the United States. Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a complex mixture of gases and particles that include smoke from the burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe tip (sidestream smoke), and exhaled mainstream smoke. Secondhand smoke contains at least 250 known toxic chemicals, including more than 50 that can cause cancer. Secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and a number of health conditions, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and respiratory infections, in children.

More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in homes, vehicles, workplaces, and public places. Most exposure to tobacco smoke occurs in homes and workplaces. Almost 60% of US children aged 3–11 years—or almost 22 million children—are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Reference: Pediatrics

See also: CDC recommends that November 15 is the day to quit smoking