The evidence is compelling that smoking in vehicles endangers children by exposing them to secondhand smoke, to increased risk of car crashes and to fires within vehicles.
Children are harmed - and may be hooked - by secondhand smoke
The evidence of secondhand smoke harm to children in enclosed spaces is extensive and beyond dispute. The US Surgeon-General says there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure and children are especially vulnerable. Health harm to children from secondhand smoke includes SIDS, meningococcal disease, asthma, bronchitis, middle ear infections, cognitive harm and more. New research suggests exposure of children in cars may also be linked with nicotine dependence.
See Surgeon General’s report at www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/factsheets/factsheet2.html
and Belanger M et al (July 2008) in Addictive Behaviors
A recent Australian study in the Medical Journal of Australia shows teenage asthma risk doubled by secondhand smoke exposure in cars. The University of WA authors back calls for banning smoking in cars carrying children. See ASH Australia media release 19/3/07 with link to the study
ASH Australia webpage at www.ashaust.org.au/lv3/Lv3informationparents.htm
Smoking in cars can lead to high-level exposure
A Harvard University study measuring air quality in passenger cars under actual driving conditions found unsafe levels of secondhand smoke, especially for children. The authors recommend development of “protective strategies including legislation.”
Rees V and Connolly G (2006), “Measuring Air Quality to Protect Children from Secondhand Smoke in Cars” in American Journal of Preventive Medicine XX(x) doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2006.07.021
Simulations also confirm that tobacco smoke can reach higher concentrations inside cars than inside homes. See http://simsmoke.org/
Smoking while driving is a safety hazard
Research also shows smoking while driving is clearly a danger - and more serious than other distractions like mobile phones or eating, since smoking involves the risk of dropping burning matter into the driver’s lap.
Recent studies on smoking and car safety were reviewed by Monash University Accident Research Centre in 2003. See p.18 at www.monash.edu.au/muarc/reports/muarc206.pdf This review cites several studies which have found that smokers have an increased risk of being involved in motor crashes, and actual distraction caused by the act of smoking is a likely factor. The review concludes that "it is clear that smoking while driving is a hazard." One study cited connects it with over 2,000 crashes a year.
See also study by Wen C et al in Tobacco Control (2005) at http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/14/suppl_1/i28 - showing smoking almost doubles car death risk, and citing several supporting studies.
Smoking in cars is a fire hazard
There is also evidence that many fires are started from lit cigarettes being thrown from car windows. See for example, report by Chapman S and Balmain A, "Time to legislate for fire-safe cigarettes in Australia" in Medical Journal of Australia at www.mja.com.au/public/issues/181_06_200904/cha10373_fm.html.
The NSW Fire Service estimates around 4% of all cigarettes thrown from cars start some kind of fire. Cigarettes can also cause fires inside cars - sometimes with fatal results involving children. This has been the subject of recent legal cases in the US.
Smoking in cars hurts poorest most
Smoking in cars is more common in deprived populations, so may contribute to health inequalities, says a recent study. Martin J et al (2006), “Observed smoking in cars: a method and differences by socioeconomic area” in Tobacco Control 15:409-411
Denormalising smoking around children
Making cars carrying children smokefree may help “denormalise” smoking in the children’s eyes, helping them to see it less as commonplace pursuit connected with family activities.
A practical and popular measure
SA, Tasmania, NSW, Victoria, WA and Queensland have legislated to make cars carrying children smokefree by law; it is also under consideration in the ACT.
Concerns over enforcement should not be a barrier to further safety measures. Enforcement by police is similarly opportunistic in monitoring seat belt use, mobile phones and drink-driving. From May 2007 to October 2009 the state issued 317 expiation notices and 85 cautions for smoking in cars carrying children. SA government media release 8/11/09
Smokefree cars carrying children are likely to be largely self-enforcing – since community support is strong. A 2004 survey of over 1300 Australians in 800 households showed over 90% (including 73% of smokers) support banning smoking in cars carrying children.Stollznow Research, 2004; Cancer Council Victoria survey 2007 – see Melbourne Age report at www.theage.com.au/news/national/smoking-ban-sought-in-cars/2007/07/24/1185043115567.html
Article credit: Ash Australia