Smoking ban will help improve child health says academic

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A Swansea University academic has said that the ban on smoking in cars carrying children which the Welsh Government is expected to announce soon is a positive move to protect the health of children and young people.

Dr Amy Brown

Commenting on the story, Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor in Public Health and Programme Director for the MSc Child Public Health said: ‘I am completely in support of this ban and welcome the move by the Welsh Government. My focus is on protecting the health of children, who if they are being driven in a car with someone that smokes, will be exposed to high levels of chemicals and smoke particles that can cause a number of health problems.’

Nearly half a million children in the UK are regularly exposed to smoke in cars and this increases their risk of chest infections, asthma and for babies, sudden infant death syndrome. Many children can also just simply find the experience unpleasant – smoke can cause coughing, headaches and eye irritation. Children often do not have control over this situation or are just too young to express that they feel unwell.

In addition to the impact on children, treating second hand smoke related illnesses in children costs the NHS around £25 million pounds each year just in the increase in GP appointments and hospital admissions needed. Over 10,000 children are admitted to hospital each year due to the effects of second hand smoke and banning smoking in cars will help reduce this.

Dr Brown also warns that even smoking in a car for a few minutes on the school run for example, will have an impact. Smoking in a stationary car – which may be stuck in traffic in the school rush – can raise levels of smoke in that car up to 11 times that you would experience in a enclosed room where someone is smoking such as in bars and pubs before the smoking ban. If the car is moving this reduces to 7 times the level but even if the windows are open and the smoker holds the cigarette by the window this is still the same as sitting in a smoky room.

Dr Brown said: ‘Even smoking in a car when the children are not in it can have an impact on their health. Firstly it can take a couple of hours for smoke to actually clear properly from a car. Secondly we now know that there is such a thing as ‘third hand smoke’ where the particles from the smoke collect on surfaces, particularly soft surfaces, such as car seats. They can remain there for months after a cigarette has been smoked and if a child puts their hands all over a seat like they often do, and then puts their hands in their mouth they will be ingesting those harmful particles.

‘Many areas of Canada, the USA and Australia have already banned smoking in cars carrying children and I am delighted that we are following their positive example. I hope that this move will reduce the exposure many children have to smoke, help to improve child health and reduce the burden of smoking on the NHS.’