I don't think this will be the last we hear of this...
Secondhand smoke in cars worse than in bars
Jurisdictions around the globe have tried to squash secondhand smoke by banning smoking in public places. But only a few have tried to prevent people from lighting up in their cars -- typically only when children are present.
A new study from Johns Hopkins' school of public health takes on the question car smoking -- just how bad is it?
Pretty bad. The amount of secondhand smoke was significantly higher in cars than in bars and restaurants, the paper found.
This comes from the Baltimore Sun. The study is unpublished (as is so often the case), but will appear in the October issue of Tobacco Control. That the results are already appearing in the mainstream press is a tribute to the anti-smoking lobby's well-drilled PR machine. Expect to see similar headlines around the world over the next few weeks.
The news angle is evident from the article quoted above - secondhand smoke levels are higher in cars than in bars. The political implications are obvious and the researchers make an open appeal to government in their paper:
These high levels of exposure to SHS [secondhand smoke] support the need for education measures and legislation that regulate smoking in motor vehicles when passengers, especially children, are present.
But the headline is extremely misleading. The study gives an average nicotine level in a car of 9.6µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). There are numerous studies that have measured nicotine levels in bars, so we can see whether the car figure really is 'worse than bars'.
Mulcahy (2005) found a level of 35.5µg/m3 in Irish bars.
Nebot (2005) found levels between 19µg/m3 and 122µg/m3 in bars/discos.
Lopez (2008) measured levels of 32.99µg/m3 in discos/pubs.
All of these readings are far higher than the 9.6µg/m3 reported for cars in this new study. So what's going on? A clue is given in the Mulcahy study which reported a 35.5µg/m3 level before the Irish smoking ban, which fell to 5.95µg/m3 afterwards.
And then the penny drops. The researchers are comparing the 'smoky' cars with smoke-free bars! It is quite unsurprising, then, that nicotine levels in premises where smoking is completely banned by law are lower than in a car where someone is smoking. Do we really need to pay scientists to tell us such things?
The real finding here is that nicotine levels in 'smoky' cars are much lower than in 'smoky' bars. But that wouldn't make for such a eye-catching headline, would it?