A new study published last week in Pediatrics found that many adults are still smoking in their cars with their children present. The study was conducted by the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Research and Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston and suggests that parents may not recognize the dangers of smoking when their children are in the car.

In the study, researchers interviewed 795 smoking parents and found that while most parents did have a smoke-free policy at home, only about one in four had a smoke-free policy for their cars.

“For some reason, the car isn’t considered an environment where children can be exposed to tobacco smoke,” said study author Dr. Emara Nabi-Burza. “Parents think putting down the windows is fine. They don’t think of it as an indoor exposure for children, which is where we need to step in and make people aware.”

More than 70 percent of the parents said someone had smoked in their car during the past three months. Of those 562 parents who lacked a “smoke-free car policy,” almost half of them said they smoked when children were present.

Fortunately, California implemented a law in 2008 making it illegal to smoke in a car with a child under 17 years old present. Violators of the law are fined $100. With so much research about the dangers of secondhand smoke, it’s surprising that only three other states in the U.S. have imposed laws that ban smoking in cars (workplace and personal vehicles) when a child is in the car. And these laws vary.

Arkansas’ law applies to children aged 6 years and younger who weigh less than 60 pounds, the Louisiana law applies to children aged 12 years and younger, and in Maine it applies to people aged 15 years and younger.

Secondhand smoke is classified by the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency as a Group A carcinogen; the same classification used for arsenic and asbestos. Studies have found that secondhand smoke inside the confined space of a car is particularly harmful for children, with the air quality becoming up to 10 times more toxic than the level considered hazardous by the EPA.

That’s why there’s no safe exposure to secondhand smoke. Young children, who are still developing physically, run a greater risk of damaging health effects including an increased risk for SIDS, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and developing asthma.

Here’s hoping this new study will help influence more states to adopt smoke-free car policies that will protect our children.

Learn More:

  •  Download the video “How dangerous is smoking in cars?”
  • Download flyers in English or Spanish called “Smoke-free cars with kids”.
  • Need help quitting?  Call the California Smokers’ Helpline: (800) NO-BUTTS for English, (800) 45-NO-FUME for Spanish, or (800) KIDS-025 for APIA languages or visit  NoButts.org.

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