Kids, Cars, and Cigarettes

Smoking in car with kidsExposure to secondhand smoke has serious and costly health implications for infants and children.  There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.  Recent studies confirm that pollution levels generated by secondhand smoke in vehicles rapidly reach dangerously high levels and pose potentially serious health risks for any nonsmoker.  This happens even with the windows open.

Children are especially vulnerable to the contaminants in secondhand smoke because their bodies are still developing.  Exposure to secondhand smoke can slow the growth of their lungs, resulting in a small, but significant reduction in their lung function. In addition, studies have shown that moderate exposure to tobacco smoke is associated with decreased elasticity of the abdominal aorta in otherwise healthy 11-year olds.  This can be an early marker of atherosclerosis, fatty deposits, which can eventually lead to clogged arteries.  Tobacco smoke also causes increase chance of ear infections, including build-up of fluid, a sign of chronic middle ear disease; frequent and more severe asthma attacks; increased general respiratory problems such as coughing, shortness of breath, and infections; and even a greater risk for SIDS.

Secondhand smoke can also be neurotoxic, meaning that it can alter the normal activity of the nervous system.  Even at very low levels, secondhand smoke could damage a child’s cognitive function.  It is estimated that almost 22 million children in the U.S. are at risk of reading deficits because of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Because children also breathe more rapidly than adults, they also inhale more harmful chemicals per pound of their weight than do adults in the same amount of time.  So it’s not surprising, children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke exposure in small confined spaces, such as cars and trucks.