Ending the Tobacco Problem - Resources for Local Action
Institute of Medicine

Call To Action


Smoke-Free Homes and Vehicles


Regulating homes and vehicles is part of the ongoing campaign for a tobacco free environment. Parents have a significant influence over their children's exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)—otherwise known as secondhand smoke—and a direct effect on the likelihood that their children will become smokers. Secondhand smoke has long been shown to be harmful to both adults and children. Clean air rules in homes and cars can have several long lasting benefits including protecting children from exposure to highly toxic substances, helping parents to stop smoking, and reducing the rate of smoking initiation among teenagers.


Recent studies show that when children are subjected to secondhand smoke in enclosed places such as cars, they are exposed to about 27 times the amount of toxins as usual. Smoking bans in the home and in vehicles have been shown to reduce smoking prevalence among adults. Studies have shown that smokers who lived under a total smoking ban were more likely to report a quit attempt in the previous year, and those who made quit attempts were less likely to relapse [1]. For example, a study from Australia found that smokers who lived with a smoking ban were 4.5 times more likely to quit than those who did not [2].


One Community's Effort to Ban Smoking in Vehicles


In June of 2008, Ontario, Canada officially banned smoking in vehicles if a child aged 16 or under is present. Ontario is the third Canadian province to pass this ban, following Nova Scotia and British Columbia.


Several health care organizations, including the Ontario Medical Association, lobbied the government to pass the bill [3]. They presented to government officials and other community groups to gain support. Some compromises were made in order to get the bill passed. For example, the bill originally called for a $1,000 fine for offenders, and the age limit extended to 18. To secure support, the age was lowered to 16 and the fine was reduced to $250.


Passage of the bill was accomplished with a wide array of supporters working over several months for the support of lawmakers. Despite the protests of smokers' rights groups that argued that the bill would lead to smoking bans in private homes, the bill eventually passed.


As of 2009, there are no laws that ban smoking in single-family detached dwellings. While banning smoking in apartment buildings or condominium buildings is more common now because of shared space and smoke filtering through walls, these issues do not exist for single-family detached dwellings. As a result, there is no legal basis upon which to base a smoking ban for family homes. The task of keeping a family's home and yard smoke-free falls to the adults of that house.


Reference: The Canadian Press June 16, 2008


Further Information


Exposure to secondhand smoke in cars increases the amount of toxins children are exposed to and has been compared with child abuse. The level of secondhand smoke in an enclosed car can be very high, sometimes exceeding levels in bars in which smoking is permitted. This level of exposure can have serious consequences, especially for infants and children. A 1999 survey found that 13 percent of middle school students and 17 percent of high school students reported daily exposure to cigarette smoke while they were in a car [4].


Smoking bans have been found to reduce smoking initiation, reduce rates of smoking prevalence, and minimize smoking consumption among adolescents. Whether a parent does or does not smoke is a major factor in this reduction. A study in 2000 found that 15 to 17 year-olds were 74 percent less likely to be smokers if they lived in houses with smoking restrictions.


ETS has been linked to a variety of health problems including low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cognitive impairments. A 2006 report found that 25 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 11 live with at least one smoker [5]. More than 21 million children are currently at risk for reading, math, and visual spatial deficits due to exposure to secondhand smoke. The direct costs of children's passive exposure to tobacco smoke have been estimated at about $5 billion per year [6].


The danger to children of exposure to tobacco smoke has been proven so thoroughly that many courts have taken smoking habits into account when deciding child custody cases. Under some circumstances smoking in the home can be considered child endangerment or medical neglect.


[1] Farkas AJ, Gilpin EA, White MM, & Pierce JP. (2000)  Association between household and workplace smoking restrictions and adolescent smoking.  Journal of the American Medical Association 284(6): 717-722

[2] Siahpush M, Borland R, & Scollo M.  (2003)  Factors associated with smoking cessation in a national sample of Australians.  Nicotine and Tobacco Research 5(4): 597-602 

[3] http://www.oma.org/home.asp

[4] Farrelly MC, Chen J, Thomas KY, & Healton CJ.  (2001)  Legacy first look report 6: Youth exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.  Washington DC: American Legacy Foundation

[5] DHHS (2006) The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: A report of the Surgeon General.  Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. and TIPS (2006) Secondhand smoke: Fact sheet

[6] Aligne CA & Stoddard JJ (1997)  Tobacco and children: An economic evaluation of the medical effects of parental smoking.  Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 151(7): 648-653