Published Date: 24 March 2010
By LYNDSAY MOSS
A CALL for a ban on smoking in cars has come from doctors worried by growing evidence about the effect of cigarettes on children.
• Passive smoking is blamed for one in every five cases of sudden infant death syndrome, costing the lives of 40 babies a year in UK. Picture: PA
In a report today, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) says, across the UK, passive smoking causes at least 22,000 new cases a year of asthma and wheezing in children – as well as more severe illnesses.
It found more than 20,000 chest infections, 120,000 bouts of middle ear disease and 200 cases of meningitis in youngsters were also thought to be linked to the effects of second-hand smoke inside and outside the home.
And passive smoking was blamed for 40 cases of sudden infant death syndrome every year – or one in five.
Professor John Britton, chairman of the RCP's tobacco advisory group, said legislation to ban smoking in the home would be "unenforceable", so views of "what is acceptable" had to be changed to protect the two million children who live in homes that allow smoking.
A total ban on smoking in cars and vans would be easier to police than the current situation, under which officers have to differentiate between business and private vehicles, he said.
"We would recommend a ban on smoking in all vehicles," he said.
The report also called for smoke-free legislation to be extended to other public places used by children, such as areas outside schools and nurseries and near playgrounds.
Scottish experts backed the findings of the report, supporting more extreme legislation to combat the effects of smoking. But smokers' lobby group Forest said banning smoking in cars was "unacceptable and unenforceable".
The Scottish Government said there were no current plans to ban smoking in cars.
Evidence suggests smoking within the enclosed environment of a car poses an even greater risk than smoking in the home, leading the RCP report to recommend increased enforcement.
A Populus survey last year found about three-quarters of children whose parents smoked in their car wanted them to stop and were worried about the effect on their own health.
Prof Britton said even drivers who never had child passengers should get out of their cars before lighting up for reasons of road safety.
Richard Ashcroft, a professor of bioethics at Queen Mary, University of London, who contributed to the report, said the review gave opportunities to clamp down on smoking in public places used by children, such as play areas and outdoor swimming pools.
Prof Britton said this could include banning parents from smoking near the school gates but that it would be difficult to legislate for situations such as family barbecues in private gardens. "Adults need to think about who's seeing them smoke," he said.
The report was funded by Cancer Research UK and carried out by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, partly based at Nottingham University.
It also revealed the burden that passive smoking put on the NHS – it results in more than 300,000 GP consultations for children, some 9,500 hospital admissions and costs the NHS about £23.3m each year.
Prof Britton said: "Many parents believe that smoking in only one room or when the children have gone to bed will somehow protect the children from exposure. It doesn't."
He added there was also a "misconception" that opening a window would reduce risk.
The research found that children with two parents who smoked were almost nine times as likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke as those in non-smoking families. If the father smoked, then exposure was about three times higher; if the mother smoked, it was more than six times higher.
The RCP made a series of recommendations, including calls for increases in the price of tobacco, measures to tackle tobacco smuggling and illegal trading, and investment in media campaigns targeted at young people.
Other recommendations include cutting down children's exposure to images of people smoking in the media – with films and TV programmes which show gratuitous smoking classified as adult viewing – and stiff penalties for those who sell cigarettes to under-age youngsters.
Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "We strongly support the policy recommendations and repeat the call for new approaches to address this problem so we protect the health of children and young people."
Dr Neil Dewhurst, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:
"The evidence is compelling. Passive smoking exposure significantly increases the risk of a range of diseases in children."
Janet Davies, from the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The alarming evidence in the report makes it a moral duty to protect young people's health from the dangers of passive smoking."
A British Medical Association Scotland spokeswoman said:
"Parents may be aware of the risks to their own health from smoking, but this new report also highlights the devastating effect that exposure to second-hand smoke can have on children.
"Doctors would urge parents to give up smoking to protect their own health as well as that of their children."
But Simon Clark, director of Forest, said: "If you ban smoking in cars, which is a private space, it's a small step to banning smoking in the home. Both measures are unacceptable and unenforceable.
"Smoking in outdoor areas poses little or no threat to anyone's health. Banning smoking in parks and other areas where children congregate would be a gross over-reaction.
"We wouldn't encourage people to smoke around children, but adults should be allowed to use their common sense and act accordingly."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said recent legislation had reduced the exposure of young people to smoking.
"While there are currently no plans to extend the smoke-free laws to private cars, the Scottish Government is conscious that private cars are now one of the main places for exposure of children to second-hand smoke," she said.
ACTION to tackle smoking inside cars has already been taken in several countries.
According to the Royal College of Physicians report, legislation prohibiting smoking in cars has already been introduced in some areas, including several states in Australia, Canada and the United States.
The RCP report – Passive Smoking and Children – said the UK faced a number of regulatory options for the UK to tackle smoking in cars.
These included banning smoking in private vehicles carrying children.
The report said: "The last of these is probably the most easily enforceable option, and would also address breaches of smoke-free legislation in vehicles that are workplaces, and improve road safety."
http://news.scotsman.com/uk/Doctors-dem ... 6175034.jp