Second-hand smoke with passengers under 16 illegal in OntarioSecond-hand smoke with passengers under 16 illegal in Ontario

The evidence is clear: smoking in motor vehicles when children are present carries a heavy price. Here are some ways to keep your vehicle smoke-free.


You wouldn't let your child light up a cigarette in your car, would you? Of course not, but some smokers don’t realize that second-hand smoke from their cigarettes can be just as bad for their kids.

Second-hand smoke contains over 4,000 toxins (poisonous chemicals that are harmful to the body), 50 of which are known to cause cancer. It also contains nearly triple the nicotine and 70% more tar than the smoke inhaled by a smoker.

No amount of second-hand smoke is considered safe. In fact, the amount of second-hand smoke in the air inside of a car can be up to 20 times more than in a bar and 27 times more than the air inside of a smoker's home.

And, rolling down the window to let out cigarette smoke does not help! To reduce the amount of second-hand smoke toxins in a car to safe levels would require air exchange between the inside and outside of the car at the speed of a tornado. Second-hand smoke also leaves a chemical residue with many toxins that can linger on car seats and other surfaces for quite a while.

Children are much more at risk than adults when it comes to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke:

  • Children breathe faster than adults, so their smaller lungs take in more of the toxins from the smoke.
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke causes children to suffer more frequent ear infections and lung problems, including coughing, wheezing, bronchitis, croup, and even ashma and pneumonia.
  • The effects of second-hand smoke can follow children into adulthood and increase their risk for cancer and heart disease.
  • Second-hand smoke can affect a child's learning ability and behaviour.
  • Children of smokers are more likely to start smoking when they are older.

Thankfully for children in Ontario, there's a new law that will keep them from breathing toxins from second-hand smoke while they are in the car. Starting on January 21, 2009, the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2008 will make it illegal to smoke in cars when there are passengers younger than 16 years old. This applies to the driver or any other passenger who is smoking when someone younger than 16 years old is in the car. Offenders can be fined up to $250.00.


Here are some tips to keep your car smoke-free:

Consider quitting. It’s tough to quit an addictive habit. The new law and the New Year can be a good time to consider quitting smoking. If you want to quit, you don't have to go it alone. There is support:

  • Look for help from health services in your community. Talk to your health care providers - your doctor, your dentist, or your pharmacist - for ways to help you quit.
  • Take advantage of free support services like the Canadian Cancer Society's Smokers' Helpline.
  • Research has proven that it's easier to quit when those around you do, too. So get other smokers to join you as you “butt out” for good. You can also sign up for the Driven to Quit Challenge or the STOP study.

Remove all reminders. If you smoke in your car, you may need to clean up. Remove ashtrays and the built-in lighter. Clean your car completely, and vacuum the inside of your car to remove stale leftover cigarette smoke and toxic residue.

Change your habits. Chewing gum and mints can keep your mouth busy when you are craving a cigarette. Those trying to stop smoking may choose nicotine gum.

Smoke before you leave on car trips. If you have to, smoke outside your vehicle before driving off.

Hide the cigarettes. Instead of storing your cigarettes in your purse or glove compartment, put them away in the trunk of your car.

Take breaks. On long trips, the temptation to light up may get to be too much. Pull over at rest stops or areas that allow smoking. Your children will still be close to you, but the open air will make their exposure to second-hand smoke much less dangerous.

Change course. You may want to switch the routes you drive everyday to avoid temptations to smoke, like the corner store where you buy cigarettes.

Pack snacks. Keep a few healthy, non-perishable snacks in your car. Nuts, raisins, and those one-portion snack bags all travel well.

Stay smoke-free - even when you're kid-free. Challenge yourself to keep a smokeless car even when you're on your own or with other adults. That way, you keep the air fresh and the upholstery unpolluted. And you'll give your own lungs a break.

Beat your cravings. In addition to gum and mints, research other quick "craving cures," like rubbing your hands together (at a stoplight!) or massaging your earlobes.

Remember why you're doing it. In the toughest moments of temptation, remind yourself that the difficulty you feel is nothing compared to the damage that second-hand smoke has on your child's health.

Post a sign. Stick a no-smoking sign to your car windows maknig it a smoke-free zone. If you can’t remove your car ashtray, attach small no-smoking stickers to it. Homemade signs made by your kids may be even more meaningful.



Canadian Cancer Society - Smokers' Helpline
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Smoke Free Ontario - Quit...You Have It In You
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Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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Canadian Cancer Society - Ontario
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Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco Position Paper - Second-Hand Smoke
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Ontario Medical Association Position Paper - Exposure to Second-Hand Smoke: Are We Protecting Our Kids?
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Health Canada - Go Smoke Free
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Ontario's Campaign for a Smoke-Free Ride
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