The Canadian Cancer Society believes that prohibiting smoking in vehicles carrying children will help protect kids and youth from the harmful health effects of second-hand smoke.
Health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke
Second-hand tobacco smoke contains at least 50 cancer-causing chemicals that are inhaled and absorbed by non-smokers and smokers alike. Research has shown there is no level of second-hand smoke exposure that is safe. Second-hand smoke causes premature disease and death – including cancer – in children and adults who do not smoke.
Impact of second-hand smoke on children
Children are more severely affected by second-hand smoke than adults, so protecting them from exposure is critical. Compared to adults, children absorb more of the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke due to their developing lungs, higher breathing rate and less-developed immune systems. The 2006 US Surgeon General’s Office concluded that children exposed to second-hand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, leukemia, brain and other childhood cancers, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease and an increased severity of asthma.
Young people are less able to guard themselves against exposure to second-hand smoke; therefore, it is important that policy be in place to protect them.
Tobacco smoke in vehicles is highly concentrated
Smoking a single cigarette in a car causes an alarming increase in respirable suspended particles (RSP), or air contaminants, and carbon monoxide in only 5 minutes. Even short exposure to second-hand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in children; long-term exposure can impact lung health.
Smoking a single cigarette in a vehicle can produce levels of second-hand smoke once found in the smokiest bars and restaurants. Studies show that: “the particle exposure for a 5 hour automobile trip, with 2 cigarettes smoked per hour, would be 25 times higher than the same exposure scenario in a residence.” 1
Positive role modelling and helping to prevent youth uptake of tobacco
In addition to protecting children from harmful second-hand smoke, restrictions on the public use of tobacco also influence changes in social norms. Smoke-free policies help challenge the perception that tobacco use is acceptable and a normal adult behavior. Such a shift in public perception can have a positive impact on reducing the number of youth who start smoking, or helping them stop if they already have started.
Research shows that when parents provide a smoke-free vehicle and home, their children are less likely to use tobacco in the future.
Other research has indicated that ongoing or severe exposure to second-hand smoke, particularly in a confined space such as a vehicle, has a direct and measurable impact on the brain that can increase the potential for nicotine addiction. This effect is similar to what happens in the brain of smokers.
Smoke-free vehicle legislation will help empower more parents to take steps that will support their children in remaining tobacco-free for life.
Existing Canadian laws protecting children and youth from second-hand smoke in vehicles
Laws prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children have been adopted in the Yukon and in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
The Canadian Cancer Society believes all children and youth deserve equal protection from the harmful health effects of second-hand smoke. One of the most prevalent locations minors are exposed to second-hand smoke is in a vehicle. Despite public health information and warnings on the dangers of exposure to second-hand smoke, some adults continue to smoke in their vehicles when children and youth are present.
The Canadian Cancer Society strongly urges the Government of the Northwest Territories to prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying children and youth.
1. Ott, Wayne, Klepeis, Neil, Switzer, Paul, Air change rates of motor vehicles and in-vehicle pollutant concentrations from secondhand smoke, Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology (2007), 1–14, 2007 Nature Publishing Group as cited in OMA Backgrounder