News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Most Smoker Parents Allow Smoking in Cars
In a new survey, about 2 out of 3 smoking parents who don't allow smoking at home said they do allow it in the car. Among those who don't have a no-smoking policy in the car, half allow smoking even when children are riding.. Researchers were surprised by the results. They said it shows people don't realize that smoke in the car, and even the residue of past smoking, can harm children. Researchers interviewed about 800 smokers who had brought their children to a doctor's office. About 3 out of 4 said that someone had smoked in their car in the last 3 months. About 1 out of 4 said they had a strict no-smoking policy for the car. Only about 12% said their child's doctor had urged them not to allow smoking in the car. The journal Pediatrics published the study online. HealthDay News wrote about it November 12.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Everyone should know by now that smoking is bad for your health. Tobacco smoke has lots of chemicals that cause cancer, lung problems and heart disease.
Secondhand smoke is also harmful. It is what a tobacco smoker breathes out. It also comes from the tip of burning cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Another name for it is environmental tobacco smoke.
Secondhand smoke harms you and everyone around you. Breathing in secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for children. It irritates their lungs, which are still growing. This puts children at higher risk to have health problems such as asthma, colds and lung infections.
The main place where children are exposed to secondhand smoke is in their homes. Many children also are breathing in tobacco smoke in cars. Parents who smoke can protect their children by having a strict "smoke-free" policy in their homes and their cars.
A study just published in the journal Pediatrics looked at how many parents who were smokers had adopted a smoke-free policy for their cars. Researchers asked almost 800 parents whether or not they smoked or let others smoke in their car.
- About 1 in 3 said they had a smoke-free policy in the car. Even so, 3 out of 4 parents reported that someone had smoked in their car in the last 3 months.
- Very few parents had a smoke-free policy in the car, even those with smoke-free policies in their homes.
- Half of parents without a smoke-free policy in the car said they had smoked while their child was in the car with them.
This all means many children are being exposed to cigarette smoke while in their parents' cars. Parents may not know that smoking in cars is just as dangerous for their children as smoking at home.
This study shows that more must be done to teach parents about the dangers of smoking in their cars. Pediatricians can help spread this message.
However, this study also noted that only about 12% of parents who smoked were advised by their child's doctor to have a smoke-free car.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
When you smoke, it is like everyone around you smokes. The best thing you can do to protect your children is to stop smoking. This will make you healthier and improve the health of your children.
Take these steps to lower the smoke exposure to your children.
- Stop smoking. If you cannot stop, at least never smoke around children.
- Create a safe and healthy environment for your children.
- Do not smoke inside your home.
- Do not let others smoke inside your home.
- Do not smoke inside your car.
- Do not let others smoke inside your car.
- Do not take your children to public places where people are smoking.
Keep your children from being exposed to tobacco smoke.
- At home: No amount of secondhand smoke is safe.
- In your car: Do not allow anyone to smoke if children are riding in your car. Rolling down a window does NOT protect them.
- In day care: Make sure smoking is never allowed in your child's day care.
- At school: Your child's school should be smoke-free inside and out. All school events should be "No Smoking."
- In public: Choose restaurants and businesses that are smoke-free. "No Smoking" sections in restaurants do not protect children from secondhand smoke.
Even when you cannot smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm your children.
- Opening a window or using a fan does not protect children.
- Air purifiers and air fresheners do not remove smoke's poisons.
- Smoke from one cigarette can stay in a room or car for hours.
- Do not smoke at home or in the car, even when children are not there.
- If you live in an apartment, smoking outside in a hall or stairwell does not protect children inside. Smoke can go under doors and through windows and cracks.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
It is critical that our children always have clean air to breathe. This is especially important since their lungs are still developing. I hope that with more awareness we can limit the number of children who are exposed to secondhand smoke each year.
You can expect your child's doctor to talk with you about keeping both your home and car smoke-free. We also need more public health campaigns to help lower smoke exposure.
Most importantly, people can protect children by making smart decisions about their smoking habits. We must all be committed to doing the right thing for our children.