More than 800 children visit their doctor every day due to the effects of being exposed to secondhand smoke, according to research published by the Royal College of Physicians.
The figures have been highlighted as the government launches a campaign to increase awareness of the hidden dangers of smoking in homes and cars.
Millions of children in the UK are exposed to secondhand smoke daily, which puts them at increased risk of lung disease, meningitis and cot death.
A survey found that of 679 smoking parents 68% of them who smoke admit to doing so in the car with their children present, while 75% of smoking parents were shocked to hear that secondhand smoke affects the health of so many children.
More than 80% of secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, and contains harmful cancer-causing toxins and poisons.
Television adverts will show that smoking out of a car window or the backdoor is not enough to protect children from secondhand smoke.
Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “It’s well known that smoking kills, but many smokers still don’t realise the damage their smoke causes to those around them.
“Secondhand smoke can be an invisible killer and with more than 300,000 people seeing their GP each year because of it, we need to make sure people know how dangerous it can be.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said he hoped the figures would be a “wake-up call”.
“We hope these figures showing the number of children who need hospital treatment for the effects of secondhand smoke and the information contained in the campaign will provide a wake-up call to many smokers out there.
“We must do more to protect the health of our children and making your home and car smokefree will reduce this unnecessary harm to children’s health,” he said.
Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said it is “vital” that children are protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
“Raising awareness of the dangers, providing information and supporting parents to make healthy choices are the first steps towards this.
“We hope this campaign helps bring attention to this and encourages parents and all adults to protect their families and make their homes and cars smokefree,” he said.
Smokefree Homes and Cars is one of the marketing campaigns from NHS Smokefree, and other campaigns include Stoptober and Mutations.
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