Drive down any street in any city or town and undoubtedly you will see someone dangling a cigarette out the window, trying to prevent the smell from permeating the interior of the vehicle. Unfortunately for the smoker and those in the vehicle, it doesn’t matter whether you have the window cracked open or hang your cigarette totally out, the smoke is there. Everyone inside the vehicle is engulfed in a yellowish, musty, bitter, overbearing acrid smoke that clings to everything it touches. The smell is offensive, but more importantly, it is harmful to the health of everyone who is forced to breathe it.
Secondhand smoke contains over 250 cancer-causing chemicals, and decreases the oxygen levels in the bodies of those exposed. You can’t escape the smoke, no matter now many windows are rolled down, and the air in smoke-filled vehicles is potentially more dangerous than smoky bars and restaurants because of the confined space.
Young children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke because of their developing bodies. They are strapped into a car seat, and cannot escape the smoke, even if a window is open. Exposure can lead to delayed lung growth, middle ear infections, asthma, and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
Information from a national survey showed 22.8% of middle and high school students, who do not smoke, were exposed to secondhand smoke in cars. Although that figure is down from the 40% in 2000, the number of non-smokers affected by secondhand smoke is still high. Older students exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles can still develop acute respiratory infections, and asthma conditions can worsen. The study did not specify if the smoker in the vehicle was a parent or another student.
Currently Arkansas, California, Louisiana and Maine have laws prohibiting smoking in a car when children under 16 are present. Since the legal age to purchase tobacco is 18 in most of the U.S. it makes sense to ban smoking in all vehicles when a person under the legal age for purchasing tobacco is present. Eliminating exposure to cigarette smoke protects children of all ages.