You already take plenty of precautions when you?re behind the wheel?especially if the kids are in the car. But if you?ve ever lit up a cigarette while driving (even with the window open) you?re harming more than just your own health: Kids exposed to second-hand smoke in a motor vehicle, even for merely 10 minutes, see their daily inhalation of pollutants soar by 30%, according to new research published in Tobacco Control. Pollutant levels inside smoky cars exceed those in restaurants, bars, and casinos, the study found.

Children are very vulnerable to the effects of second hand smoke, because most of this occurs in cars and private homes ? locations not covered by outright public bans on smoking.

Researchers base their findings on 22 assessments of the air quality inside a stationary vehicle after three cigarettes had been smoked over the course of an hour.

On each occasion, levels of pollutants that are normally emitted by cars as well as by cigarettes, were measured in the back seat of a vehicle at the breathing height of a child ? with the front windows completely down (position 1), and again with the windows open just 10 cm (position 2).

These pollutants were also measured outside the vehicle and included particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and carbon monoxide, plus nicotine.

Exposure to PAH, in particular has been linked to immune system disturbances, wheezing, IQ changes, and allergic sensitization.

The pollutant levels inside the car at both window settings were three times as high as those measured outside, the results showed.

On the basis of their findings, the authors calculate that spending even a short amount of time inside a car with a smoker would make a significant difference to a child?s daily exposure to harmful pollutants.

They point out that levels of harmful pollutants found inside the car exceeded those found in restaurants, bars, and casinos.

?Children are more vulnerable than adults, and their exposures to tobacco smoke in a vehicle are completely controlled by the adults with whom they share the vehicle,? they write.

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