Smoking in vehicles brings higher nicotine exposure

The researchers said their findings pointed to a need for a campaign to discourage smoking in cars.

Sharing a ride with a smoker will give you a much heftier dose of nicotine than having a meal in a restaurant that allows smoking or hanging out at a smoky bar, according to new research.

Even opening the window or switching on the air-conditioner when a smoker lights up leaves significant amounts of nicotine in the air, according to the study by four researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

In fact smokers who put their windows down all the way averaged more nicotine in the air, perhaps because they tended to be heavier smokers or perhaps because the air whipping around inside their cars distributed smoke and nicotine more widely, said Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, one of the researchers and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Public Health.

“In any case it is clear that ventilation is insufficient to eliminate tobacco smoke,” she said.

Nicotine, which is toxic, is the addictive substance in tobacco.

The Hopkins team believes its research, using air samplers placed in 22 drivers’ cars last summer, is the first to measure nicotine concentrations in actual driving conditions rather than in laboratory simulations. Their results were published in the medical journal Tobacco Control.

The Hopkins team found nicotine in the air averaged 8.3 micrograms per cubic meter when a driver smoked one to three cigarettes during a commute, and 12.5 micrograms per cubic meter when drivers smoked four or more discount cigaretts. The highest concentration, 128 micrograms, was recorded in a small car in which the driver smoked eight cigarettes while keeping the air-conditioner running.

A benchmark 2005 European survey of nicotine, cited by the Hopkins study, in the air of restaurants that allow smoking reported median levels of 9.3 micrograms in Paris; 7.8 in Barcelona; 7.1 in Orebro, Sweden; and 4.7 in Athens. Only Vienna, at 17 micrograms, reported a higher average than the average for a driver smoking four or more cigarettes. Nicotine in the air of smokers’ cars was higher than the averages recorded in a 31-nation survey of 1,284 smokers’ homes, according to a 2008 report also cited in the Hopkins study.

The eight-cigarette driver’s car had more nicotine in the air than 28 of the 40 European discos and bars that the 2005 the European survey examined.

Each marlboro cigarettes sale smoked roughly doubled the amount of nicotine in the air in the cars, the study found.

The researchers said their findings pointed to a need for a campaign to discourage smoking in cars, noting that nicotine from secondhand smoke can affect asthmatic children’s breathing, while studies have shown it can affect the cardiovascular system in ways similar to actual smoking.

A handful of states, including Arkansas, California and Louisiana, ban smoking in cars when children are passengers. So does Puerto Rico. Beginning next month, Avis Budget Group Inc. will ban smoking in all of its rental cars, citing customers’ complaints about tobacco odors and residues.

The Hopkins researchers said their findings were generally in line with recent studies suggesting that smoking two cigarettes a day inside a car leaves the air with about 20 percent more particulate matter than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ceiling for what it considers unpolluted air.

They said the drivers they studied all agreed that smoking posed a health risk to passengers, and that 15 percent would only smoke when they had no passengers in their cars.


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