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What is a healthcare professional’s role in banning smoking in cars?

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Raising concerns about passive smoking with parents is not easy but the task will often fall to healthcare professionals. How can we help our children?

What is a healthcare professional’s role in banning smoking in cars?

Children aren’t always able to speak out and defend their rights to breathing in smoke-free air. Indeed, when asked, 34% of children who had been exposed to smoke in cars reported not feeling able to ask adults to stop (BLF/ TNS survey, 2011). Healthcare professionals can play an important role in giving children a voice.

Last week Labour tabled an amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would enable a ban on smoking in cars when children are present. In late January, peers voted in favour of the amendment. Last Monday 10 February, MPs voted for a ban on smoking in cars to be introduced.

The importance of a ban on smoking in cars with children cannot be overstated. Second-hand smoke is a major cause of ill-health in children, and is particularly dangerous in the small confines of a car. It increases the risk of illnesses including bronchitis, asthma, middle ear infections and even meningitis.

Yet the fact remains that every week, over 430,000 children aged 11-15 years are exposed to passive smoking in the family car (NHS Information Centre, 2010) and every year 300,000 children visit their GPs, 9,500 are admitted to hospital and 40 sudden infant deaths occur as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke (RCP report, 2010)

Healthcare professionals can play an important part in the success of a ban through their crucial role as educators.

Research has shown that legislation often works best alongside awareness raising; many people, for example, will not know that smoking in a car even with the window rolled down or the air conditioning on, creates levels of pollution above the World Health Organisation safety standards (University of Aberdeen, 2011).

It is hard to believe that any parent would willingly place their child in danger, which is why it is so important that parents be made aware of the dangers. It is equally as important to let smokers know that banning smoking in cars is not about criminalising smoking or smokers.

The sole purpose of this ban is to protect children who may be exposed to the harmful toxins in cigarettes. Being able to provide parents with this information could contribute greatly to the success of a ban.

A ban already has great public support: nearly 80% of adults and 65% of smokers support it (ASH, 2012).

We only need to look at the legislation that made wearing a seatbelt a law. Before legislation, only 25% of the UK population wore a seatbelt while driving. After legislation was introduced, alongside awareness raising campaigns, this increased to 91% (WHO, 2009).

And we mustn’t forget the impact that the smoking ban of 2007 has already had on children’s health. A study last year showed that hospital admissions in children with asthma symptoms went down by 12.3 per cent in the first year after smoke-free legislation was introduced in England (Millet et al, 2013).

Having campaigned on this issue for many years, we’re absolutely delighted that MPs have backed the ban on smoking in cars carrying children. MPs from across the parties have come together to support this ground-breaking measure. The introduction of a law that would help prevent hundreds of thousands of children from being exposed to second-hand smoke in the car is now within reach.

With both Houses of Parliament having made their support for the ban clear, the onus is now on the Government to act accordingly and make this crucial child protection measure law at the earliest opportunity.

Dr Penny Woods


Find out more: British Lung Foundation



BLF/ TNS (2011) Survey of more than 1,000 children aged 8-15

All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health (ASH) (2012) Inquiry into smoking in private vehicles

World Health Organization (2009) Seat-belts and child restraints. World Health Organisation/ FIA Foundation

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