James Cant: Fatal blow to second-hand smoke

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Since Scotland’s landmark smoking ban in 2006, attitudes to smoking in public have changed.

People smoking in bars, pubs and restaurants is a thing of the past, and people are more aware of the harmful health effects of passive smoking.

But the hidden dangers of second-hand smoke lie in the particles that make it up. Incredibly, each one is 20 times smaller than a single grain of sand. And because of their tiny size, 85 per cent of second-hand smoke is invisible and has no smell.

So, in thousands of homes and cars across Scotland each day children are exposed to potentially lethal second-hand smoke by parents, family members and family friends who are trying to do the right thing but who aren’t quite going far enough. We all need to work together to take those extra few steps that will protect our children’s lungs.

That’s why the British Lung Foundation is supporting a Scottish Government campaign which gives people the facts, in a bid to help them take smoking right outside of their home and car. It’s important to be clear that this is not about giving smokers a hard time. It’s simply about making sure that everyone is aware of the invisible dangers of second-hand smoke and is clear on how to protect their families from its effects.

So here are the facts. Every time you smoke, you breathe out second-hand smoke, which has 4000 chemicals. After just one cigarette, the harmful chemicals from second-hand smoke linger long after the smoke has disappeared.

Smoking out an open window or at the back door isn’t enough to protect your family from exposure as the chemicals can travel from room to room for up to five hours. And children are especially vulnerable to these toxins because their airways are smaller and they breathe faster.

Similarly in the car, even with the window open, the chemicals from second-hand smoke reach dangerous levels in just 60 seconds.

The only way to make sure those around you are properly protected is to take smoking right outside of the home, making sure the door is shut firmly behind you so the harmful chemicals can’t travel into the home.

A huge amount has been done to help move Scotland towards the target of being a tobacco-free nation by 2034 for the benefit of all. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to set a target of reducing the proportion of children in Scotland exposed to second-hand smoke in the home from 12 per cent to six per cent by 2020, and this campaign forms part of the drive to help people change their behaviour.

With 9500 children admitted to hospital in the UK every year because of the effects of second-hand smoke, including asthma and wheeze, middle ear disease and bacterial meningitis, helping people who smoke make small changes is an important part of realising this ambition.

We have to get second-hand smoke right out of our homes and away from children. Every parent wants to do the right thing to protect their kids, and we’re working to ensure people have the facts and support to help change.

For help and advice on how to take smoking right outside, visit www.rightoutside.org.

• Dr James Cant is head of the British Lung Foundation Scotland