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One in Five Kids Exposed to Secondhand Smoke In Cars

Eliminate Smoking in Cars with Widespread Policies

While widespread smoking bans in public places have reduced the amount of secondhand smoke that we are exposed to, there is still one place that kids breathe in toxic air – automobiles. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that more than one in five children ride in cars while others are smoking.

The findings are based on the results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted at public and private middle and high schools between 2000 and 2009. Students were asked how often they rode in cars over the previous week while someone else was smoking. Overall, almost 23% of teens and pre-teens were exposed to secondhand smoke in 2009, which is down from 40% in 2000 but still problematic, states CDC researcher Brian King, an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Office on Smoking and Health.

“There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics, and cars may be the riskiest place. A previous report released by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and reported in the British Medical Association Journal finds that nicotine concentrations are 50% higher within a closed car than what is found in restaurants or bars that permit smoking. Opening a window does not protect the child.

Carbon Monoxide from a lit cigarette is also increased within the confined space of an automobile. Elevated levels can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Not only does air quality potentially affect passengers, but drivers are also at a 50% greater risk of getting into a car accident when CO blood levels are high.

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More restrictions are needed to crackdown on children’s’ exposure to tobacco smoke which is linked with many health problems including breathing issues and allergy symptoms. So far, merely educating parents on the risk has not had much of an effect finds scientists from the University of Otago, Wellington. This team notes that children in poorer areas, for example, are 11 times more likely to be exposed to second hand smoke.

"Because the implementation of 100% smoke-free policies is the only effective way to fully eliminate [secondhand smoke], states and communities should expand comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in worksites and public places to also prohibit smoking in motor vehicles occupied by youth," the researchers concluded.

Four states have laws that prohibit smoking in cars when there are children aged 16 or younger inside – Arkansas, California, Louisiana and Maine. The British Medical Association has proposed such legislation in the UK as well.

King BA, Dube SR, Tynan MA. Secondhand Smoke Exposure in Cars Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2000–2009. Pediatrics peds.2011-2307; published ahead of print February 6, 2012,doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2307
Patel V, Thomson G, Wilson N. Objective measurement of area differences in ‘private’ smoking behaviour: observing smoking in vehicles. Tob Control doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050119

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