Smoking causes 80% of deaths from lung cancer but the British Lung Foundation says many people remain ignorant of the risk they pose to their children by lighting up in a car.
The BLF estimates that every year, second-hand smoke results in 165,000 new cases of lung disease among children, 9,500 hospital admissions and 40 sudden infant deaths.
It is now campaigning to get legislation passed to protect children from passive smoking in cars, as well as make people aware of the many risks:
• A single cigarette smoked in an enclosed space such as a car – even with the window half open - exposes a child in the centre of the back seat to around two-thirds as much second-hand smoke as an average smoky pub
• When the window is closed and the car stationary, the levels increase 11 times
• Children are particularly susceptible because they have smaller lungs and their immune systems are less developed.
As well as passive smoking being a danger to children in cars, it is also a risk factor for meningococcal disease. This life-threatening infectious condition affects all ages, but children under five and young people aged between 16 and 25 are particularly susceptible.
Every year in the UK, two to six cases occur per 1,000 people – with a 10% fatality rate. Risk factors increase during winter, and second-hand smoke, flu and overcrowding are contributory factors.
A recent study by Nottingham University concluded that every year in the UK, passive smoking at home could result in an extra 350 cases of meningococcal disease.
The strongest effect was in children under five. The authors point out that this is a vital public health issue and this information should be used to educate the public. They conclude: “There is no doubt that people working to prevent meningococcal disease... should be thinking of new ways to target information to smokers to reduce the likelihood of meningococcal infection in young children.”
For more information, visit www.blf.org.uk/Page/Smoking-in-cars