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Time to ban smoking in cars

22ND JUNE 2011

British Lung Foundation chief executive Dame Helena Shovelton argues that it is time to ban smoking in cars.

Every year more than 300,000 children in the UK present passive smoking-related illnesses to their family doctor.

This is a preventable statistic and a preventable cost to the NHS, with £10 million worth of primary care visits and asthma treatments, and £12 million in hospital admission costs, caused directly by passive smoking.

In the confines of a car, children are exposed to concentrations of passive smoke, equivalent, according to Aberdeen University research, of levels in a smoke-filled pub.

Smoking indoors in public places is banned so why should children suffer because smoking is not banned in cars?

British Lung Foundation research found 51% of 8-15-year-olds surveyed had been exposed to cigarette smoke in cars but were too scared or embarrassed to ask the adult smoker to stop. Some 86% of children want smoking made illegal in cars.

Steps have been taken elsewhere, notably in Canada, where a national media programme was supported by legislation in some states. Areas where legislation on smoking in cars when children are present was implemented saw a dramatic drop in exposure to smoke compared with states that just focussed on education and awareness campaigns.

In America, concern over the dangers to children of smoking in cars has been raised in California, Arkansas and Louisiana.

In Wales, similar concerns have been raised, while the Health Department of Jersey is already considering passing the ban and Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has raised the issue in the UK Parliament.

It is now time for Westminster to take the lead in enacting legislative change in this vital aspect of child health.

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