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Environmental connections to public health >>

Don't Let Your Child Be a Back Seat Smoker

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Many parents who don't smoke - and have raised their kids to do the same - might be surprised to learn that their offspring could be secondhand-smoking a pack a week.

Roughly one in every five children in high school and middle school is exposed to secondhand smoke while riding in cars, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, the CDC is particularly concerned about exposures that occur in the close confines of a car, which it has linked to allergy symptoms and breathing problems. Both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization classify secondhand smoke as a "known human carcinogen."

The CDC based its findings on 10 years of data (2000-2009) on US students in grades 6 through 12. Encouragingly, the research found a dramatic decline in exposures over the 10-year period, but there are still far too many non-smoking adolescents who are inhaling secondhand smoke while riding in cars.

Brian A. King, the study's lead author, told the Associated Press: "The car is the only source of exposure for some of these children, so if you can reduce that exposure, it's definitely advantageous for health."

Under state laws, parents in Arkansas, California, Louisiana and Maine are prohibited from lighting up in the car while children are riding along. But the kids in the CDC survey were not just riding in cars driven by parents; many were passengers of friends and classmates.

The study, published Feb. 6, 2012 in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, concluded that:

Jurisdictions should expand comprehensive smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in worksites and public places to also prohibit smoking in motor vehicles occupied by youth.

If you'd like to reduce or eliminate your or your children's exposure to secondhand smoke, the Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to do just that.

Photo credit: Centophobia Flickr

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