Posted by: Sheila Duffy ASHS | December 1, 2011

Clearing the air on second-hand smoke

There have been a number of recent contributions to the debate on protecting people from second-hand tobacco smoke, a debate spectacularly re-ignited in recent weeks by the British Medical Association’s call for a ban on smoking in vehicles.

Working with the British Lung Foundation, Alex Cunningham MP tabled a 10 minute rule bill in Westminster setting out legislation to ensure smoke-free vehicles where children under 18 are present. This was scheduled for debate last week, but has now been delayed until next year.

The public debate splits along predictable lines. On the one hand, concerns about the toxic nature of tobacco smoke, its high concentration in enclosed spaces, and the particular vulnerability of some people due to their age, pregnancy, or medical conditions. On the other hand, concerns about regulating private spaces and how such legislation might be enforced. It’s a debate that needs to be well aired, with all the possible options for reducing harm, including legislation, debated and weighed up.

At this year’s Scottish Smoking Cessation Conference on 22 November, key findings from the REFRESH project were launched by ASH Scotland and our REFRESH project partners the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. This project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, allowing us to explore a promising new approach to reducing the harm from tobacco smoke.

At the invitation of mothers who smoked and had children under the age of five, we took air quality monitoring equipment into their homes. Over a period of 24 hours we measured the changes to fine particulate matter in the indoor air, which peaked whenever tobacco was smoked. We then discussed the findings with them. The main focus of the work was not to challenge parents to quit smoking, but to explore with them, through the use of the air quality information from their home, how they could reduce the harmful impacts of tobacco smoke.

Our findings were encouraging. Many participants expressed surprise at the high levels of tobacco smoke that were recorded and at how long the harmful fine particles lingered in the air after a cigarette was extinguished and the visible smoke had cleared. There was also surprise at how rapidly tobacco smoke drifts through a home. In some cases, parents had taken steps to protect their children, such as smoking in a different room or opening a door or window, but they learned from the readings that the actual protection these steps gave was far less than they had assumed. We supported parents in the study by encouraging them to think about the practical changes they were willing and able to make to reduce their smoking in the home and vehicles.  and actively protect their children’s health.

This is the kind of empowering information we need to make available to smokers so they can work with the actual facts about second-hand tobacco smoke. This will give them the freedom to manage their own smoking and choose effective ways to protect their families’ health.




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