Smoke-Free Vehicles

Smoke-Free Vehicles Carrying Children

Every child has a right to health and to breathe clean air.  By enacting legislation in Alberta to prohibit smoking in cars carrying children under the age of 18, more children would be protected from the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.

Our position

ASH believes that banning smoking in vehicles carrying children under the age of 18 will help protect children and youth from the harmful effects of secondhand tobacco smoke.

While overall exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in public places is decreasing, children are still at risk in private homes and vehicles. In 2013 the Alberta government passed Bill 33, which amends the Tobacco Reduction Act to include a ban on smoking in vehicles when minors are present.  However the Bill has yet to be proclaimed and implementation is still pending.  It’s time to proclaim the Bill and start protecting kids.

Secondhand tobacco smoke and the impact on children

Secondhand tobacco smoke is the smoke from a burning cigarette, pipe or cigar as well as the smoke exhaled by a smoker.  It is a complex mixture containing more than 4,000 chemicals, over 50 of which are known carcinogens. Secondhand tobacco smoke is a major, preventable contributor to acute and chronic adverse health outcomes. Those exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke for long periods of time are more likely to develop and die from heart disease, respiratory problems and lung cancer. It is estimated to kill more than 1,000 Canadians every year. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

Protecting children from secondhand tobacco smoke is critical, as they are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of exposure. This is because children are smaller, have immature immune systems and higher respiratory rates. Secondhand tobacco smoke is linked to leukemia, brain and other childhood cancers as well as to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, ear infection and respiratory disease in children. Even short exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke can trigger an asthma attack in children while effects on lung health may be long term.

Positive modeling and helping to prevent youth from using tobacco

In addition to protecting children from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, smoking restrictions also influence social norms regarding the acceptability of smoking. Smoke-free polices help challenge the perception that tobacco use is a normal adult behaviour. This in turn can have a positive effect on youth and help them remain smoke-free.

Policies that restrict smoking can help reduce youth uptake of tobacco. Research demonstrates that when parents provide a smoke-free vehicle and home, their children are less likely to use tobacco in the future. Other research has indicated that ongoing or severe exposure to secondhand smoke, particularly in a confined space such as a vehicle, has a direct and measurable impact on the brain that can increase the potential for nicotine addiction. This effect is similar to what happens in the brain of smokers. Smoke-free vehicle laws will help empower more parents to take steps to help keep their kids tobacco-free for life.

Smoking in vehicles with children

Exposure to secondhand smoke in the confined space of a vehicle is particularly dangerous since secondhand smoke levels (from a single cigarette) can exceed concentrations previously found in the smokiest bars and restaurants. Even still, children in Alberta remain unprotected from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in private vehicles.

Smoking and motor vehicle collisions

Children, who are passengers of drivers who smoke, may also be at risk of more immediate, physical harm. This is because smoking is a known driver distraction and smokers are 50% more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision than nonsmokers.

Support for smoke-free vehicles when children and youth are occupants

  • There is strong support for smoke-free vehicles carrying youth and children among the public, including smokers.
  • 89% of Albertans agreed that smoking should be prohibited in cars transporting children and youth under the age of 18.
  • 75% of smokers support smoke-free vehicles when children and youth are present.
  • In 2007, the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution calling for bans on smoking in vehicles when minors are present.
  • In 2008, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association approved a motion calling for a provincial ban on smoking in vehicles with children present.

Smoke-free vehicles in Canada

Alberta is lagging behind other jurisdictions.  Laws prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children have been adopted by the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. In Alberta, the Town of Okotoks and the City of Medicine Hat have smoke-free vehicle bylaws to protect youth under age 16 and the City of Leduc and the Town of Athabasca have passed bylaws that includes children under the age of 18.

Our recommendations

Every child has a right to health and to breathe clean air.  By proclaiming Bill 33, the Alberta government will be protecting more children from the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.  ASH recommends that the Government of Alberta proclaim Bill 33 which prohibits smoking in vehicles transporting children and youth under the age of 18 years.

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Action on Smoking & Health
ASH is Western Canada's leading tobacco control organization.