Sorry to subvert a romantic pop classic in the pursuit of sharing public health messages, but it’s long been established that second hand smoke can cause cancer. Indeed, regular exposure – so called passive smoking – can increase a non-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by a quarter.
Even with the windows wound down, a car remains a confined environment and second hand smoke lingers longer than one may think – up to two and half hours depending on local conditions. If you smoke when you drive and regularly transport passengers, no amount of internal or external air conditioning is going to remove their passive risk entirely. This is especially true for children.
The health and care sector has therefore welcomed the recent announcement that, from 1 October 2015, it will be illegal to smoke in a car (or other vehicles) with anyone under 18 present. This new restriction is born of the belief that the health consequences of an adult’s choice to smoke should not be visited upon those too young to avoid them.
It can only be hoped this soon to be enacted legislation will help combat the insidious misconception, still held by many, that smoking is only really bad for the person lighting up. In this respect, while the rule of law will act as a deterrent for some, there is a wider obligation upon all of us working in or with the care and support sector to raise awareness of the dangers of second hand smoke – particularly for the young.
Smoking whilst sitting by a window provides only the illusion of protecting others – as this NHS public health TV campaign from 2012 powerfully demonstrates. Exhaled smoke does not simply disperse and disappear – it hangs around, invisible yet invasive. Frequency and length of exposure is therefore a critical issue for the young. Meningitis, cancer, bronchitis and pneumonia are all conditions which can be exacerbated in children - as can incidents of cot death and inner ear infections - in environments where smoking by others is a regular occurrence.
It is our duty of care as communicators, health visitors, care workers, social workers, clinicians – indeed, friends and family – to point out the reality of passive smoking. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have the ability to do something about that – our children don’t.