In-vehicle smoking ban the healthy answer

Breathing in second-hand smoke is especially harmful to children. Picture: complimentary
Breathing in second-hand smoke is especially harmful to children. Picture: complimentary
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It seems unfair that while being driven to sporting activities, second-hand smoke puts children’s health at risk, says Marjory Burns

As parents, we always want what’s best for our children. And no responsible parent would ever encourage their child to smoke.

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

But look around you today as you go about your business, because every day, around 60,000 kids in Scotland breathe in someone else’s tobacco smoke while travelling in a vehicle.

Passive smoking, also called secondhand smoking, presents a serious health risk. It’s estimated to cause approximately 11,000 deaths a year in the UK. Passive smoking has been linked with a 25 per cent increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.

As well as these longer term risks, there’s a much more immediate health risk to children. Breathing in secondhand smoke is especially harmful because it increases their risk of a number of significant health problems, including lower respiratory infections, wheezing, asthma, middle ear disease and bacterial meningitis. And it more than doubles the risk of sudden infant death.

Children are also likely to be more vulnerable to the impact of passive smoking than adults. They have quicker respiration rates, smaller airways and less mature immune systems, and are therefore more at risk from exposure to smoke in an enclosed space.

So why should the focus be on preventing smoking where children are present?

Unlike other groups, children are least likely to have a say as to whether they are exposed to passive smoking in a vehicle.

It seems very unfair that while, for instance, they are being driven to activities like football, swimming or dancing, so many of our children have no choice about having their present and future health put at risk through exposure to secondhand smoke.

It’s the view of British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland that legislation to protect children from passive smoking in vehicles is the best way forward.

Our vehicles are already well regulated. There are laws to prevent us from using mobile phones while driving, and to make us wear seat belts. We think there should also be a law to stop people from smoking in cars where children are present.

And that’s not just our opinion. Last year, a survey found that 79 per cent of Scottish adults – including 67 per cent of those who smoke – support a ban on smoking in vehicles where there are children under the age of 18.

We would like to see the law reflect that strength of public feeling, and that’s why we are supporting Jim Hume MSP’s proposed Member’s Bill to ban smoking in cars where children are present.

I urge you to read his consultation at: and if, like us, you want to protect kids from the effects of secondhand smoke, you can help by expressing that support. The more people who respond to the consultation, the more likely the legislation is to be passed.

Similar legislation has been successfully introduced in other parts of the world. Most parts of Australia are covered by laws protecting children from tobacco smoke in cars, and bans have also been implemented in most of Canada and several states in the US.

They’ve been effective too – in Nova Scotia and Ontario, self-reported exposure to passive smoking by children reduced by over a quarter after the legislation was introduced.

While this proposal focuses on the effects of secondhand smoke on young people, it may also encourage the adults they are travelling with to cut down or to quit altogether.

Every year, there are around 13,000 deaths in Scotland that can be attributed to smoking, and more than 56,000 hospital admissions, costing our NHS over £300 million. These are figures that should shock us all.

That’s why BHF Scotland is also working in other ways to reduce the harm that tobacco does in our society. In March every year, our No Smoking Day offers encouragement and support to smokers who want to quit.

We are campaigning for the introduction of standardised “plain” tobacco packaging to reduce the appeal of tobacco and help prevent future generations of young people from taking up smoking. The UK government is dragging its heels on this important issue and, if they don’t introduce standardised tobacco packaging, we want to see the Scottish Government do so.

Over the last decade, Scotland has led the way for the rest of the UK in introducing measures to tackle the damaging effects of tobacco.

At BHF Scotland, we’ll do whatever we can to make that continue. Because coronary heart disease is still Scotland’s single biggest killer. And the most important thing anyone can do to improve their own heart health, and protect the heart health of their children, is to stop smoking – or to not start at all.

• Marjory Burns is director of British Heart Foundation Scotland

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