Health Portugal , Castelo Branco, Monday, April 20 of 2015, 14:09

Over 28% of children are exposed to cigarette smoke in the family car

Research carried out by the Universidad de Beira Interior shows that Portuguese children aged nine whose parents smoke suffer five times more exposure to cigarette smoke in cars

José Pichel Andrés/DICYT An extensive study carried out by the Faculty of Health Sciences of the Universidad de Beira Interior of Covilhã, in collaboration with the Universidad del Miño of Braga, has found that over 28% of Portuguese children aged nine are exposed to cigarette smoke when they travel by car. Experts thus draw attention to this problem, which is particularly serious as these children are inhaling toxic substances in enclosed spaces, and recommend that measures should be taken.


A survey was carried out on 3,187 children in the fourth year of Educación Fundamental who are aged about nine. 28.9% of them are exposed to cigarette smoke in the family car, according to the results published by the scientific journal Gaceta Sanitaria. In 52% of cases at least one of the parents smokes and the difference between these children and those whose parents are non smokers is very significant. 46.9% of the former inhale cigarette smoke in the car compared with 8.6% of the latter.


Paulo Vitoria, a researcher of the Universidad de Beira Interior and one of the directors of this study, warned that “smoke is always dangerous to human beings, but it represents a more serious risk in the case of children who are more vulnerable” in a statement to DiCYT. In his opinion the risk is greater when the smoke in concentrated in small spaces, but it should also be considered that “the smoke is deposited on clothes and on the surfaces of cars, and the materials used in the upholstery and coatings of vehicles are prone to the retaining of dangerous substances”.


Cigarette smoke contains gases and microparticles that include nicotine and various toxic compounds, some of which are carcinogenic. It is more dangerous for children owing to the immaturity of the respiratory system. Compared with adults, according to the specialist their inhalations are deeper and more frequent. This is why exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia as well as coughing and wheezing.


“The main source of environmental smoke from cigarettes is that of parents and we can only think that they subject their children to this danger through ignorance”, declares Paulo Vitoria. He therefore calls for more information for the population, in particular because this ignorance tends to be related to socioeconomic inequalities, so that the health consequences deriving from this problem are added to other negative circumstances of the disadvantaged sectors.




A high percentage of children whose parents do not smoke are also exposed to cigarette smoke in the car by relatives or friends, but in general parents who smoke are more permissive regarding the smoke produced by third parties. Moreover, the authors of the study have also found a clear relationship between exposure in the car and at home and in public places.


“Parents should be more proactive in protecting their children”, points out the researcher, who hopes to repeat the study with children of other ages to achieve even more consistent results.


Moreover, “the seriousness of the risks and the evidence that children's exposure is considerable makes the situation unacceptable”, Paulo Vitoria comments. For this reason he recommends that the authorities should prohibit smoking in cars, in particular if minors are travelling in them.


Bibliographical reference 


Portuguese children’s exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in the family car. Vitoria, Paulo D; Machado, Jose Cunha; Ravara, Sofia B; Araujo, Ana Carolina; Samorinha, Catarina; Antunes, Henedina; Rosas, Manuel; Becona, Elisardo; Precioso, Jose. Gaceta Sanitaria/ S.E.S.P.A.S, Vol: 29 Num: 2, 131 -4. DOI: 10.1016/j.gaceta.2014.10.011