Kids win big as protective policy gains momentum

20 June 2011

Medicine Hat -

The momentum for smoke-free vehicle legislation in Alberta is growing as Medicine Hat joins the list of municipalities taking a stand to protect kids from secondhand smoke exposure in cars.

On Monday night, Medicine Hat City Council voted 8 to 1 in favour of passing a bylaw banning smoking in vehicles carrying children under the age of 16.

“We commend the City of Medicine Hat for being leaders in public health,” says Michelle Sauve of the Canadian Cancer Society. “Medicine Hat has put the health of its community first by helping to protect children from the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.”

Children are particularly at risk to the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke because they have higher breathing rates and immature immune systems. When regularly exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke children are at an increased risk of such diseases as SIDS, childhood cancer, acute respiratory infections and asthma. Exposure to secondhand smoke in the confined space of a vehicle is particularly dangerous since secondhand smoke levels – from just a single cigarette – can exceed concentrations previously found in the smokiest bars and restaurants.

Most provinces in Canada have legislation to protect children from secondhand smoke in vehicles and interest to do the same in Alberta is growing. Bylaws have been adopted in Okotoks, Leduc, Athabasca, and now Medicine Hat.

Medicine Hat’s new bylaw is a significant milestone and the Canadian Cancer Society hopes that the policy standard in Alberta will be to protect all children and youth under the age of 18, particularly since most established smokers begin experimenting with cigarettes between the ages of 10 and 18.

“The vast majority of people who start smoking do so by the age of 18,” says Sauve. “Any measure that can help to prevent the onset of tobacco use beyond this critical age will help many young people avoid a lifelong addiction to this deadly product.”

Recent Canadian evidence shows that exposure to secondhand smoke in vehicles reduces the resolve of young people to remain smoke-free. Smoke-free vehicles can help kids remain tobacco-free for life. Although the primary motivation for this bylaw may be to protect youth from exposure to secondhand smoke, it can also serve a greater purpose by helping to prevent kids from starting to use tobacco in the first place.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada and will continue to require preventative action to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. Municipalities like Medicine Hat are leading the way with this bylaw that will protect today’s children and future generations.


The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

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Deanna Kraus

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