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Measuring Air Quality to Protect Children from Secondhand Smoke in Cars

American Journal of Preventive Medicine Volume 31, Issue 5 , November 2006, Pages 363-368 Vaughan W. Rees PhD and Gregory N. Connolly DMD, MPHa Harvard School of Public Health, Division of Public Health Practice, Boston, Massachusetts

BACKGROUND: Secondhand tobacco smoke (SHS) is a major, preventable contributor to acute and chronic adverse health outcomes that affect children disproportionately. The predominant source of SHS among children is domestic exposure, and while up to two thirds of U.S. households have car smoking bans, an unacceptable number of children remain vulnerable. To help promote more effective protection through legislation, health communication strategies, or behavioral interventions, data demonstrating the adverse effect of SHS on air quality in cars are needed.

METHODS: Secondhand tobacco smoke in a motor vehicle under actual driving conditions was monitored by measuring respirable suspended particles (RSPs) of less than 2.5 microns in diameter, and carbon monoxide. Forty-five driving trials were conducted, using teams of volunteer drivers and smokers recruited from the general community. Three smoking conditions (nonsmoking baseline, active smoking, and immediate post-smoking period, each 5 minutes) were crossed with two ventilation conditions (windows open, closed) in a 3 × 2 within-sessions factorial design.

RESULTS: The highest mean observed RSP level was 271 μg/m3, which is unsafe, particularly for children. Peak RSP levels were considerably higher. RSPs and carbon monoxide increased significantly from baseline after smoking, and these increases were greatest during the closed ventilation condition, compared with open ventilation.

CONCLUSIONS: Private passenger cars are a domestic environment with the potential to yield unsafe levels of SHS contaminants. These data may assist policymakers and health advocates to promote protective strategies to ensure smoke-free domestic environments for children.

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