MK considers bill to bar smoking in vehicles with kids

Exclusive: Study finds air in cars with cigarettes much more toxic than in restaurants allowing smoking.

smoker in car 248.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
smoker in car 248.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
After Johns Hopkins University researchers have proven that the amount of harmful nicotine in air-conditioned cars with smokers is much higher than in pubs and restaurants that allow smoking, an MK is considering initiating a bill to bar smoking in vehicles with children as passengers. Israel Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov, whose colleague MK Yuri Shtern proposed such legislation three weeks before his death from brain cancer in 2007, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday after learning of the Baltimore study that such a bill would be a fitting memorial to Shtern. He asked to read the study, which was published on Tuesday in the journal Tobacco Control. Health Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev said he personally was very much opposed to smoking in cars containing minors, but that he had not discussed the proposal with Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), who decides policy. Meanwhile, Jerusalem tobacco control lawyer Amos Hausner, who is chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said that smoking in vehicles should not be allowed altogether, since it risks the lives of the driver and his passengers, both due to the increased chance of road accidents and the damage to health from the toxic substances released in cigarette smoking in such a small space. Hausner noted that there is a law - too seldom enforced - barring the holding of cellular phones while driving, because this greatly increases the risk of crashes. Two years ago, he recalled, the transport authorities sponsored a month of radio public service ads calling on the public not to smoke in cars for this reason. The US study on secondhand tobacco smoke concentrations in motor vehicles - by Dr. Patrick Breysse, Dr. Ana Navas-Acien and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health - focused on 17 smokers and five nonsmokers who commuted to and from work by car for 30 minutes or longer. Two passive airborne nicotine samplers were placed in the cars - one at the front passenger seat headrest and one in the back seat behind the driver - for 24-hour periods. Using gas chromatography, the researchers analyzed the 44 samplers gathered and found there was a twofold (1.96) increase in air nicotine concentrations per cigarette smoked, 40 percent to 50% higher than in restaurants and bars that allow smoking. While laws around the world bar smoking in public indoor places, only a few countries and several American states have barred smoking in cars occupied by children. But in the US alone, involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke accounts for thousands of respiratory, cardiovascular and cancer deaths every year, the authors note. Vehicles are increasingly being shared for car pools, thus more people are being exposed to smoke. The researchers estimated that nicotine concentrations were twice as strong in smokers' than in nonsmokers' cars, and 40% to 50% higher than those in restaurants/bars that permit smoking. Research has shown that children aged between five and 12 who had been passengers in cars with smokers were nearly twice as likely as children who were not exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles to suffer from persistent asthmatic wheeze. Factors such as vehicle size made a difference in the Baltimore study results, but opening the windows did not eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. Of the smokers in the study, 53% said that being unable to smoke in the car would help them to quit smoking altogether, and 93% of smokers agreed that motor vehicles should be smoke-free on a voluntary basis. The researchers conclude that the high nicotine concentrations measured in the air of vehicles in this study "support the urgent need for smoke-free education campaigns and legislative measures banning smoking in motor vehicles when passengers, especially children, are present." Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper reported on Monday that children - as young as five years old - in Malawi who are forced to work as tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. They suffer from severe health problems from absorbing daily up to 54 milligrams of nicotine through their skin. Low-grade, high-nicotine Malawian tobacco is found in the blend of almost every cigarette in the West and is often used as a filler by manufacturers, according to the newspaper. As the number of US tobacco farms declined by 89% between 1954 and 2002, three-quarters of production has migrated to developing countries, with Malawi the world's fifth biggest producer. It is estimated that more than 78,000 children work on tobacco estates - some up to 12 hours a day. The children reported common symptoms of green tobacco sickness (GTS) - nicotine poisoning - including severe headaches, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, coughing and breathlessness. GTS is a common hazard of workers coming into contact with tobacco leaves and absorbing nicotine through their skin, especially when harvesting. It is made worse by the humid and wet conditions prevalent in Malawi, as residual moisture on the leaves helps nicotine to be absorbed quicker. GTS symptoms are worse in children than adults as they have not built up a tolerance to nicotine through smoking and because of their physical size. Animal studies have shown that mice given nicotine during infancy and adolescents suffer from long-lasting changes in brain structure and function.