Updated 21 February 2014

Do you smoke with kids in the car?

The health risks of secondhand smoke are well-known. However, few people realise the devastating effects of secondhand smoke in a car, especially if the passengers are children.

The health risks of secondhand smoke are well-known and many countries have passed legislation to ban smoking in public places in order to protect non-smokers. However, few people realise the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke in a car, especially on children.

Smoking in your car is not just inconsiderate to others; it's also very damaging to their health. Even though smoking in the car with kids under the ages of 12 is banned in South Africa (the law was passed in 2008), one still sees too many families on the road with parents smoking.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), secondhand smoke contains more than 4 000 chemicals, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.

Read: protect your children from smoke

Concentration 11 times higher than in a smoky bar

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoking as they have significantly higher metabolic and respiratory rates than adults, the UK Action on Smoking and Health organisation warns.

According to a study, published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research peer-reviewed journal, children are much more vulnerable to these toxins than adults as they breathe more rapidly, absorb more pollutants because of their small size, have less developed immune systems and are more vulnerable to cellular mutations.

This study found that secondhand smoke particle concentrations in a vehicle are up to 11 times greater than the concentrations found inside a bar which allows smoking.

The California Environmental Protection Agency also confirmed the extremely harmful effects of secondhand smoke with their finding that cigarette smoke particle exposure in a closed car is comparable to the exposure a firefighter might receive over four to eight hours fighting a California wildfire!

Read: passive smoking can kill you

Opening a window doesn't help

Passive smoking in children is associated with a greater likelihood of asthma, triggering an asthma attack, chronic lung diseases, meningitis, coughs and colds, and middle ear disease such as otitis media (which could cause hearing loss). Secondhand smoke has also been recognised as a cause of sudden infant death syndrome.

It is important to note that opening a window does not reduce the levels of secondhand smoke in a car to a safe level, as the smoke simply blows back into the vehicle, often lingering for hours. Even though you can't see or smell it, it is still there.

Do you smoke with kids in the car? The Healthy Habits survey has revealed that 5.79% of Health24 users who have completed the survey to date smoke in the car when others are present. That is, despite the 64.88% of survey participants who hate second-hand smoke.

Infographic: The toxic truth behind smoking in cars with children

Share your thoughts. Complete Health24's Healthy Habits Survey  – and stand a chance to win R5 000!

(Sources: Action on Smoking and Health, Secondhand smoke – the impact on children; World Health Organisation; NHS Choices; National Institutes of Health; California Environmental Protection Agency; British Lung Foundation,

(Photo of woman smoking in car from Shutterstock)

Read more:
UK to ban smoking in cars carrying children
10 smoking laws you must know
The dangers of smoking in the car


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