Smokers could face legal action as new laws come into force today which make it illegal for anyone to smoke in vehicles carrying children.
The new law is designed to help protect children from the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Under the ban both the driver and any other the smoker can be fined £50 if anyone smokes in a vehicle carrying a person who is under 18.
Newcastle University, Public Health England and Fresh Smoke Free North East conducted an experiment to highlight the dangers of exposure to second-hand smoke in vehicles, which tested the levels of dangerous chemicals.
Despite what people might think, opening car windows does not remove the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and tests showed levels of dangerous chemicals were more than 100 times higher than recommended safety guidelines.
When the windows were closed and the fan on, levels of chemicals were more than 200 times higher than safety guidelines. Furthermore, the amount of the poisonous gas Carbon Monoxide (CO) was two to three times higher than on a busy road at rush hour.
Louise Wallace, Hartlepool’s director of public health, said: “Most people in Hartlepool who smoke will take it outside and don’t smoke in the house or car around their children, as they know it exposes their child to toxic chemicals that increase the risk of illness.
“We really welcome this new law and it is for a very good reason that children’s lungs need protecting.
“The latest research from the North East demonstrates all too well that opening a window still exposes children to high levels of poison.
“We’d always urge any parent who smokes to quit, and with local stop smoking service support it can be easier than people think. But if that is not something they feel they can currently do, they should at least make sure they keep their car and home smoke free so that children do not suffer from the harmful effects of second hand smoke.”
A recent survey by YouGov and ASH revealed that ending smoking in cars with children is supported by 88% of adults from North East households.
Lisa Surtees, acting director of Fresh, said: “It is really important we give children legal protection from smoking in cars.
“Most smokers nowadays avoid smoking around children, but a significant number of children are still exposed to smoke which contains harmful poisons like carbon monoxide and arsenic and puts them at increased risk of meningitis and respiratory infections.
“This law is incredibly popular with 88% of adults in the North East supporting it. We also expect it will be largely self-enforcing, as with the smoke free law in 2007. It will bring major health benefits as many more people will realise this law is for a very good reason, and protect their children.”
Newcastle University’s Dr Anil Namdeo, who heads up the transport research team, and who led the experiment, explains: “People think that by opening the window they are clearing the air, but what actually happens is the air is sucked in from outside and pushes the smoke backwards, straight towards the passengers in the back seat.
“Within minutes of the driver lighting up we saw a rapid increase in the levels of these harmful chemicals – fine particles known as PM2.5 – not just around the driver but also around the child’s car seat.
“With the window closed the levels peaked at several hundred times the safe limit, but even with the window open we saw a significant rise to well above the safe recommended limits.”
n More than 80% of cigarette smoke is invisible, and parents can be unaware of the exposure to which children are often subjected, particularly in enclosed spaces such as vehicles.
n Children are particularly vulnerable as they breathe more rapidly and have less developed airways and immune systems.
n Secondhand smoke is made up of over 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer.
n Around three million children in England are currently exposed to second-hand smoke in a vehicle, which puts them at risk of serious conditions including meningitis and respiratory infections such as bronchitis.
n Exposure to second-hand smoke results in over 300,000 general practice consultations and an estimated 9,500 hospital admissions in the UK each year.
n For help to quitcall Stockton and Hartlepool NHS Stop Smoking Service on 01642 383 819.