Smoking Should be Banned in Cars Whenever Children are Present

At least five U.S. states - Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine and Oregon, and also Puerto Rico - have banned smoking in cars when children are present, and many more are considering it .  Similar restrictions apply in many jurisdictions in Australia, Canada, Cyprus, South Africa, Tasmania, and the United Arab Emirates, and many other countries are now moving towards similar bans.  Many states also ban smoking in cars when foster children are present.  Link

YOU CAN HELP:  Ask your state representatives to ban smoking in cars when children are present.  You can send a link to this web page.

Although there is evidence that such bans will reduce accidents from drivers being distracted by lighting cigarettes and/or dropping them while driving (as happened in "The Big Lebowski") - of particular importance when innocent children are passengers at risk in any accident - the principal reason for such bans is to protect children from exposure to the proven health dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.

It is undeniable that exposing children to secondhand tobacco - in cars or anywhere else - creates very serious dangers.  Link Link
The federal government and many other scientific and medical bodies conclude that secondhand smoke kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, Link
Moreover, as the New York Times and others have reported, thousands of children die every year from exposure to tobacco smoke. Link
To see a recent U.S. Surgeon General's report on this important topic, see: Link

Yet, although the concentrations of a variety of pollutants in a car when only one person is smoking can exceed the smoke pollution level in a typical bar [Link], most states protect adults from being exposed to even small amounts of smoke in a bar by banning all smoking, but provide no similar protection for children.  These priorities are exactly backwards, since adults can choose whether or not to enter a bar, can chose bars which ban smoking or have separate sections or only a few smokers, can move away from the smoker or leave entirely if necessary, or complain to the smoker or the bar operator.

On the other hand, children - who are far more sensitive to tobacco smoke because their lungs and the bodily defense mechanisms are still developing, because they inhale far more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults, and because they are more likely to have allergies or other conditions which make them more sensitive to airborne pollutants - have no choice but to be strapped into rolling smokehouses with one or more smoking adults.  They cannot refuse to go, cannot get out of the car if necessary, cannot move away from the source of the smoke, and no one will hear or heed their cries.

In short, adults - unlike children - can protect themselves from secondhand smoke in bars and many other public places whereas children can not. Thus the need for the government to provide this protection from secondhand tobacco smoke is far stronger in the case of children than with regard to adults who have many other remedies.

A very dramatic demonstration - which can be viewed on line [Link]-  shows in real time how the levels of tobacco smoke pollution in a car given off by only one smoker smoking only one cigarette very quickly exceed the levels the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has determined through scientific research are "UNHEALTHY" and "VERY UNHEALTHY," and even substantially exceed the level the EPA has declared is 'HAZARDOUS." 

These levels are established to protect adults, so that children are at even higher risk from the same level of exposure.  And, needless to say, the levels of tobacco smoke pollutions in the car are many many times higher than the level of air pollution caused by cars, even on a busy highway in California where some of the demonstrations took place, [Link] and they remain dangerous high even if one or more windows are opened.

By the way, simply requiring that persons driving with a child in the car keep the windows rolled down doesn't even begin to solve the problem.  As the demonstration shows, levels of air pollution in a car with all the windows open still exceeds the UNHEALTHY level.  Leaving the windows down on cold winter days or very hot summer days, or at times when it is raining, are obviously not healthy for children inside the car.  Moreover, it is unlikely that most drivers would be willing to drive during those conditions with all the windows down.

Although some smokers continue to argue that government should not intrude upon what they believe are their "freedoms," and actually reach into their cars to tell them what they can and cannot do, this is clearly incorrect as well as selfish and uncaring. 

Every state has passed laws designed to protect children in the unlikely event of a vehicle crash by requiring the driver to place the child in a proper restraint seat.  Indeed, many of the states also require the driver to place the child in the rear seat.  In short, government has long reached into private cars, and required drivers to do something or risk a fine or even jail, in order to protect children.

Going an additional step, states also mandate that drivers not have open bottles of liquor, refrain from watching TV, avoid engaging in other activities which may distract from driving (e.g., including, in some states, the use of cell phones, texting while driving, etc.) all to protect others.

Indeed, states go even further, with virtually all requiring drivers to buckle up for their own safety.  If government can reach into private cars to require drivers to wear seat belts for their own protection, much less all of the other requirements which are imposed upon drivers to protect children and others at risk from the small risk of a collision, there seems to be no reason why drivers should not be prohibited from smoking in cars when children are present to protect their vulnerable passengers from the health harms which occur to many children every time they ride in a car with a smoker.

ASH also suggests that banning smoke when children are in a car imposes very little burden on smokers  - and much less of a burden than that children be buckled in and then unbuckled for every short ride in a car.  The great majority of situations in which children are transported in a car - e.g, to and from school, to sporting activities and events, to the homes of friends, for doctors' and other appointments -are short, so any inconvenience to the driver is minimal. They can easily smoke before they begin the trip, or for a few minutes after they drop the child off.

On those rare longer drives, most experts suggest that drivers should make frequent stops so that children can use a restroom, walk around and/or burn off some excess energy, etc.  Thus subjecting children to hours of cigarette smoke on longer drives not only increases their risk from the prolonged exposure, but also creates other problems which should be avoided when driving with children.  Making occasional stops on long trips with children is good for the children, and permits the driver to smoke without forcing everyone else in the car to do so involuntarily and thereby endanger their health.