Smoking cigarettes in the car, even with the windows open or the air conditioning on, leads to toxic air pollution levels that affects children’s health.
The toxic amount of fume exceeds the limit recommended by the World Health Organization regardless of the precautions taken.
Scientists of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, used electronic devices attached to the back seats of the cars to analyze the air quality during car journeys ranging from 10 minutes to an hour in duration.
During a three days period, the researchers, led by Sean Semple, measured the concentrations of fine particles in cars driven by 17 volunteers, 14 of them smokers. From a total of 104 car journeys 83 were accurately logged, 49 of them being smoking journeys and 34 being smoke free.
During the 49 smoking journeys, the driver smoked up to four cigarettes. The levels of fine particles averaged 85 micrograms (mcg) per cubic meter, while the World Health Organization recommends a limit of 25 mcg for safe indoor air. Levels averaged only 7.4 mcg during the 34 smoke-free journeys.
Even if the driver smoked only one cigarette and had the window wide open, particulate matter levels still exceeded the limit at some point during the journey.
The average peak during smoking trips was 385 mcg per cubic meter, with the highest being more than 880 mcg per cubic meter.
On average, the level of second hand smoke was between one-half and one-third of that measured in UK bars before the ban on smoking in public places came into force.
The British Medical Association has already demanded that all British motorists and car insurance policy holders to be banned from smoking in their vehicle to protect children from having to endure hazardous second-hand smoke.
The size of fine particulate that was measured is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.
These tiny particles are dangerous because they can reach deep in the lung, causing irritation.
According to the study published in the journal Tobacco Control, children are at greater risk because they have faster breathing rates, a weaker immune system and they are unable to avoid exposure to passive smoking.
Every year passive smoking in children accounted for more than 20,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infection, 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and 40 sudden infant deaths, said Prof John Britton, chair of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group.
“Children exposed to these levels of fine particulate are likely to suffer ill-health effects. The evidence from this paper is that second hand smoke concentrations in cars where smoking takes place are likely to be harmful to health under most ventilation conditions. We believe that there is a clear need for legislation to prohibit smoking in cars where children are present,” said the study authors.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, reacted to their statement and told BBC News: “We don’t encourage adults to smoke in a car if small children are present, out of courtesy if nothing else, but we would strongly oppose legislation to ban smoking in cars. According to research, 84 per cent of adults don’t smoke in a car with children present so legislation to ban it would be disproportionate.”