Wales took the lead with the early commitment to a smoking ban in public and work places which was brought in 2007. Now, we are making a similar stand to stop people smoking in cars in front of children.
The Fresh Start Wales campaign aims to educate people about the significant risk of children’s exposure to passive smoking. We are not accusing people of deliberately putting their children at risk. We simply believe that if parents and carers are fully aware of the devastating effects that second-hand smoke can have on children, they will choose to keep their car a smoke-free zone.
While smokers have the freedom to decide to whether to light a cigarette, children have rights and have no choice in whether they are exposed to the fumes and toxins in smoke .Children have more rapid breathing rates than adults and their lungs are still developing, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of cot death, meningitis, ear infections, asthma and other respiratory diseases in babies and children..
The campaign is focusing on cars because they can harbour particularly dangerous levels of the toxins in smoke due to the confined space.
The Chartered Institute for Environmental Health Wales carried out research looking at the impact of smoking cigarettes on particulate levels in private vehicles. The results were presented at the CIEH conference in March 2011, and revealed some surprising results.
They found that smoking inside a car is dangerous to children even after the cigarette has been extinguished. The study also revealed that high levels of dangerous particulate matter from tobacco smoke is still present in cars up to two hours after lighting up, and that opening the car window does little to reduce the risk of harm to children.
This research proved that opening the window or only smoking when children aren’t in the car are no longer valid excuses. Opening a window has little impact as most of the smoke is blown back into the car.
The ‘particulate matter’ spoken about in the study refers to material suspended in the air in the form of minute solid particles or liquid droplets, especially when considered as an atmospheric pollutant. In the case of cigarettes, this is the lingering toxicity found in the smoke. As the study showed, the toxins remain in the car long after the cigarette bas been put out. They seep into the car seats, roof lining and upholstery, not to mention any child seat your infant might be strapped into. These particulates are the reason you can still smell smoke in cars, clothing and hotel rooms if exposed to smoke. And there are a lot of toxins to worry about - around 4,000 chemicals can be found in cigarette smoke. Nobody would want to expose children to any of these poisons – but they will be if they are trapped in a car and have to breathe in second-hand smoke.
Moreover, children growing up with parents or siblings who smoke are around 90% more likely to become smokers themselves if they are exposed to a smoking habit so their future behaviours are being heavily influenced.
Smoking is a big problem for Wales. Almost a quarter of the adult population in Wales continue to smoke, half of them smoke in cars and a fifth of all hospital and bed days in Wales are attributable to people suffering from smoking-related diseases. A study commissioned by ASH Wales and British Heart Foundation Cymru determined that treating smoking-related diseases costs NHS Wales £386m. This is equivalent to 7% of total Welsh healthcare expenditure or £129 for every person in Wales.
The new Fresh Start Wales campaign calls out to the people of Wales and asks them to make their car child-friendly by keeping it free from smoke. We want people to be proud that they’ve made the pledge to make a fresh start to protect their children – or even better, to quit completely.
A number of jurisdictions have already introduced a ban on smoking in cars to protect children, including South Africa, all six states in Australia, most of the provinces in Canada and in five states in the USA. In Wales, Fresh Start Wales aims to raise awareness of the risks of exposure to second hand smoke and is a real opportunity for people to choose to keep their cars smoke free and protect their children. However, I fully support the Minister for Health and Social Services who has made it clear that she will consider legislation should children’s exposure to second-hand smoke not be reduced as a result of the campaign.
Our surveys suggest that one in five 11-16 year olds in Wales are being exposed to smoke in cars and the deadly toxins cigarette smoke produces. I am pleased we are taking action to encourage parents and other carers to think twice. Just as you wouldn’t smoke in an office or other public building these days, the Welsh Government want it to soon be the norm that you wouldn’t consider smoking in your car, either. Make the Fresh Start Wales pledge.
For more details about smoking in cars, making the Fresh Start Wales pledge or for information on quitting, visit freshstartwales.co.uk.