More than a fifth of smokers admit to lighting up in front of their children in the home or car, is the finding from a new Department of Health survey. And almost 15 per cent believed that their children’s antics in the back of car makes them reach for a cigarette.
The findings come following a raft of tough measures unveiled by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley this spring designed to cut the biggest cause of premature death in England. This includes a new hard-hitting national campaign on secondhand smoke.
The adverts show how children are exposed to smoke in the home even when their parent moves away from them - for example by smoking by an open door or smoking in the car with the window open.
The new findings also suggest that parents think they are protecting their children from the harmful poisons of secondhand smoke by opening a door or car window - without realising that is not enough. Figures show one in four open the car window when children are in the car; and one in five said that they smoke out of a window or door when children are at home.
But up to five million children across the UK are still regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home. People don’t realise that they could be breathing in deadly smoke because more than 80 per cent of cigarette smoke is invisible. Opening a car window or smoking out of the house door just isn’t enough to protect children.
Even the school run isn’t a smokefree zone as almost one in ten smokers admit to smoking in the car which exposes children to the harmful cancer causing toxins and poisons of secondhand smoke whilst making the daily journey to school.
Three hundred thousand children visit the GP each year, in the UK, due to secondhand smoke with 9,500 visiting hospital. This costs the NHS a staggering £23.3 million every year.
Children cannot protect themselves from secondhand smoke and are particularly vulnerable to it due their higher breathing rate, less well-developed airways, lungs and immune system.
Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more at risk of respiratory illnesses, asthma, meningitis and even cot death.
They are also 90 per cent more likely to become smokers themselves. In the UK, 23,000 young people each year start smoking by the age of 15 as a result of exposure to smoking in the home
Public Health Minister Anne Milton said:
“It is important that we help parents protect their children from possible harms to their health. We want parents to know that by making their cars and homes smokefree they can protect their children's health.
“Figures show that 9500 children have to go to hospital each year because of the second hand smoke and toxins they breath in. It's hard to quit but worth doing for your children. Get more information by getting a free Smokefree Kit at nhs.uk/smokefree, or for help quitting get in touch with your local stop smoking service, GP or pharmacist.”
Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation Dame Helena Shovelton said:
“The harm caused by second-hand smoke to children is irreparable. Once the damage has been done, their lungs will never fully recover.
“Just as parents buckle up their children to keep them safe in the car, having a smoke-free car should be equally as important in protecting children’s health now and in the future.”
Smokers can order a new NHS Smokefree Kit by texting POISONS to 63818 or by visiting nhs.uk/smokefree for facts, tips and tools to help them on the way to a smokefree future.
Using air monitors which measure PM2.5 levels in the air, Dr Sean Semple conducted the secondhand smoke experiment by positioning these monitors in the home of back door smoker Sharon Kendrick, to highlight the unsafe levels of secondhand smoke in her home.
Dr Semple commented: “Many parents simply aren’t aware of the dangers they are exposing their children to with their smoking. Using monitors which measure the level of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5 , can help show parents how much smoke there is in the air and just how long it lingers within the home. This method allows us to demonstrate the unsafe levels of smoke that can be present even when it is no longer visible, and to communicate the potential threat this has to everyone who lives there.
“Parents want the best for their children. Quitting smoking or making sure you have a completely smokefree home and car is the only way to protect your family.
“In Sharon’s case, the results of the experiment carried out in her home showed that for over 50% of the time, levels of secondhand smoke in her kitchen were higher than those found in bars prior to the smoking ban even though she smokes at the backdoor.”