An experimental investigation of tobacco smoke pollution in cars

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Tobacco smoke pollution (TSP) has been identified as a serious public health threat. Although the number of jurisdictions that prohibit smoking in public places has increased rapidly, just a few successful attempts have been made to pass similar laws prohibiting smoking in cars, where the cabin space may contribute to concentrated exposure. In particular, TSP constitutes a potentially serious health hazard to children because of prolonged exposure and their small size.


The present study investigated the levels of TSP in 18 cars via the measurement of fine respirable particles (<2.5 microns in diameter or PM2.5) under a variety of in vivo conditions. Car owners smoked a single cigarette in their cars in each of five controlled air-sampling conditions. Each condition varied on movement of the car, presence of air conditioning, open windows, and combinations of these airflow influences.


Smoking just a single cigarette in a car generated extremely high average levels of PM2.5: more than 3,800 μg/m3 in the condition with the least airflow (motionless car, windows closed). In moderate ventilation conditions (air conditioning or having the smoking driver hold the cigarette next to a half-open window), the average levels of PM2.5 were reduced but still at significantly high levels (air conditioning=844 μg/m3; holding cigarette next to a half-open window=223 μg/m3).


This study demonstrates that TSP in cars reaches unhealthy levels, even under realistic ventilation conditions, lending support to efforts occurring across a growing number of jurisdictions to educate people and prohibit smoking in cars in the presence of children.

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