Boston, MA -- Secondhand tobacco smoke (SHS) can have harmful effects on children. Some of the adverse health outcomes include a greater likelihood of ear infections, lower respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome and severity of asthma symptoms. It is estimated that 35% to 45% of children are regularly exposed to SHS from adults using tobacco in homes and cars. To date, there has been little research on SHS in cars.
In the first study to measure SHS in cars in real driving conditions, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers have shown that smoking in cars can produce unsafe levels of SHS. Even with the driver's window slightly open, mean respirable suspended particles (RSP) concentrations hit levels rated "hazardous" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the study, concentrations of 272 g/m3 were measured, with a peak level of 505 g/m3. In comparison, the EPA's air quality index rates concentrations of more than 40 g/m3 as "unhealthy for sensitive groups," such as children and the elderly, and more than 250 g/m3 as "hazardous" for the general population. The results showed that smoking a single cigarette for just five minutes could produce potentially harmful RSP levels. Given the levels the researchers observed, SHS in cars poses a potentially serious threat to children's health.
The authors hope that their findings will encourage renewed efforts to promote smoke-free environments for children both in cars and homes. The study will be published in the November 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and is available online now at http://www.ajpm-online.net/webfiles/images/journals/amepre/1751.pdf.
SHS is associated with adverse effects in adults as well, including cancers, cardiovascular disease and reproductive and respiratory problems. However, SHS may have more harmful effects on children be
Contact: Todd Datz
Harvard School of Public Health