Why we must blow away this smoking threat to our children

smoking in cars Dr Tony Jewell, Wales’ chief medical officer, explains why children must be protected from second-hand tobacco smoke, particularly in cars

LAST month I recommended that smoking in cars carrying children should be banned.

I also said parents should be encouraged to protect their children from second-hand smoke by making their homes smoke-free.

Many people disagreed, but it was an important debate to open.

Smoking continues to cause around 5,650 premature deaths in Wales every year and it is one of the main causes for the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor.

It is estimated smoking cost Wales £386m in 2007-08. This is equivalent to £129 per head or 7% of total healthcare expenditure.

Second-hand smoke can have a serious impact on everyone, but is particularly damaging to children whose lungs are still growing and developing.

Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased likelihood of asthma, middle-ear infections and cot death. They are also more likely to become smokers in adulthood.

Many people think by opening a window, or smoking in a room where children are not present, the smoke will not affect them. But second-hand smoke spreads from room to room.

Potentially toxic chemicals can cling to rugs, curtains, clothes, food, furniture and can remain long after someone has smoked in a room.

Simply opening a window in a car will not extract all the smoke, instead it can create a wind tunnel, blowing it directly into the back seat.

The recent ASH Wales conference in Cardiff brought together tobacco control practitioners from all over the world.

Many countries are now moving forward with tobacco control measures, through smoke-free legislation; tighter regulation of advertising and sale of tobacco products, and better support for people who want to stop smoking.

Wales was the second country in the UK to introduce smoke-free legislation in 2007. It has been successful in its main aim to protect workers and the public from the serious health risks of second-hand tobacco smoke.

I hear from many people now that they can no longer imagine being in a bar filled with smoke, let alone a plane, train or office. I hope that one day smoking in cars with children will feel the same.

This is not intended as an invasion on privacy, but alongside legislation that makes seatbelts and child car seats compulsory in cars, it is a way to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary harm.

The Finnish government has set a goal of a smoke-free nation by 2040. Its focus is on preventing young people from starting now, so there won’t be any new smokers in future.

To help achieve this, it plans to introduce a ban on point-of-sale tobacco product displays in 2012 and a ban on sales from tobacco vending machines in 2015. We consulted on similar measures in Wales in the summer.

Finland has also introduced a minimum size of tobacco packs and a licensing system for the sale of tobacco, similar to that in place for alcohol. It has also extended the ban on smoking to outdoor events and the grounds around schools and day care centres.

Canada has introduced a ban on smoking in cars in Ontario. This was a tipping point, advancing smoking prohibition to spaces previously regarded as private.

Both these countries have a lower level of smoking than we do in Wales – 24% of the Welsh population are smokers.

Stop Smoking Wales provides specialist advice and behavioural support to help smokers wanting to give up.

And there is help available to make your home smoke-free – ASH Wales, with Firebrake Wales, has developed a leaflet, which can be ordered from the Assembly Government by e-mailing tobaccopolicybranch@wales.gsi.gov.uk.

I am proud of what we have achieved so far, but there is a lot more work to be done to achieve a smoke-free society for Wales, in which harm from tobacco is eradicated.

source: www.walesonline.co.uk

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