Sunday, May 6, 2012

Smoking Cigarette while Driving: What’s the Big Deal?


While smoking habit by itself is not very healthy one, smoking and driving combination may cause additional negative consequences you might not think about before. And it is not limited by the lower value of your car, when you try to sell it…

 Still, as you know, smoking while driving is pretty much a common event.

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Habit of Smoking and Driving

It is quite understandable that smoking is associated with particular life triggers. While for different people they might be dissimilar as well, there are some, which can be labeled as common for many smokers, for example, smoking after lunch, or smoking while talking on the phone.  So, many smokers report that they cognitively pair getting into a vehicle with lighting a cigarette. The habit is so strong for some that counselors often recommend that they first quit smoking in the car before attempting quitting smoking altogether. Some tips include cleaning the car of ashes and ridding the smell, and replacing smoking with something else, such as holding and sipping a bottle of water.

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Secondhand Smoke in Cars

The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that secondhand smoke is a cancer-causing agent. In the research, the agency found levels of secondhand smoke in vehicles, tested under various ventilation conditions, far exceeded levels collected from smoky bars and restaurants. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that exposure to secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to children. Further, exposure may be associated with developing cancer as adults. The report recommends that children are protected from exposure in vehicles.

The Worldwide boost to consider smoking in the car as dangerous activity for kids inside has been received based on the 2009 study, showing up that passengers riding in the cars of smokers are exposed to nicotine levels nearly twice those found in restaurants and bars that permit smoking. The dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke are well known, including the risk for heart and respiratory disease, and have led to laws banning smoking in many public places. Many anti-smoking advocates believe the next frontier in the fight against secondhand smoke is in cars.

"These levels of exposure are unacceptable for nonsmoking passengers, particularly children, who are at increased risk for secondhand smoke-related health problems," said study co-author Patrick Breysse, director of the Division of Environmental Health Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Even opening the window or switching on the air-conditioner when a smoker lights up leaves significant amounts of nicotine in the air, according to the study. In fact smokers who put their windows down all the way averaged more nicotine in the air, perhaps because they tended to be heavier smokers or perhaps because the air whipping around inside their cars distributed smoke and nicotine more widely, said Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, one of the researchers.

Smoking Ban in Cars with Minors Present

The multiple accumulated reports caused several countries, the USA States, and even local communities passing Laws restricting smoking in the cares, with children present.

For example, in 2007, Bangor, a city in Maine, passed an ordinance banning smoking in cars when a minor is present. Violators are issued a $50 fine. Advocates are motivated to protect children from secondhand exposure. Smoke-free car laws seem to be gaining support in the U.S. and abroad. Results from a 2008 review of 15 studies concerning public attitudes about a smoking ban in cars with minors present found high levels of support, even among smokers.

In 2009, a new Ontario law made it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle in the presence of a child under age 16. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act applies to drivers and passengers and to both moving and stationary vehicle, regardless of whether windows, sunroofs or doors are open. These violations carry fines of up to $250 and are enforced by police. The same year, the British Columbia government has set $109, as the fine, for those caught smoking in vehicles with children under the age of 16.

As of today, California, Louisiana, Arkansas, Hawaii, Utah, Maine, and Puerto Rico are the states in the nation that have outlawed smoking in cars with kids.

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Distractions and Traffic Accidents

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and conducted by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, reported that only 0.9 percent of police-reported accidents involving a towed vehicle from the crash site were attributed to a smoking-related event. The study used data from the Crashworthiness Data System from five years. The most common distractions constituting over 50 percent of accidents were distractions from outside the vehicle, adjusting the radio and another passenger. 0.9 percent is a small number, but converted to the actual number of crashes it gives approximately 12,780 crashes over the 5 year period examined.

However, several studies have found that smoking while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash. Study performed by Brison used a case-controlled study to investigate the risk of a motor vehicle crash in smokers and non-smokers. A self-administered questionnaire was sent out to 1,000 people known to be involved in a motor accident and 1,100 controls who had not been involved in a crash, to obtain information on each driver’s smoking status. The results revealed that smokers had an increased risk of being involved in a motor accident than non-smokers and the tendency to smoke while driving further increased this risk. Brison concluded that the association between smoking and increased crash risk could be the result of three factors: distraction caused by smoking, behavioral differences between smokers and non-smokers, and carbon-monoxide toxicity.

Another Italian study was focused in particular on the risk assessment of distraction of smoking habits while driving vehicles. Researchers have compared the results with the data about driving distraction using mobile phone without voice devices. They video-recorded 10 smokers - 4 male and 6 female - smoking cigarettes, while driving a car. The average of measured driving distraction of smokers was about 12 seconds. It means to cover a distance of 160 meters with a speed of 50 Km/h. Comparing to the use of mobile phone, for which the data of driving distraction showed duration of 10.6 seconds, translated in a distance of 150 meters at the speed of 50 Km/h. These results suggest that cigarette smoking produces a remarkable risk for road safety, even more than the mobile phone use, practice outlawed in many countries.

 In addition to the conditions that produced a considerable driving distraction of smokers, the study demonstrated substantial shortage of oxygen, the presence of carbon monoxide and high concentration of other health affecting substances in the air breathed inside the vehicle.

British Rule 148 of the Highway Code also advises drivers not to smoke while driving. Smoking requires the driver to take out a cigarette, find a lighter and light the cigarette, all of which are both a mental and physical distraction. It is a mental distraction because at least part of the driver’s attention is on finding and lighting a cigarette (and it is understandable that driving is impaired when a driver’s attention is divided) and a physical distraction because the driver has to use at least one hand to deal with the cigarette.

Once lit, smoke from the cigarette may inhibit the driver’s vision (smokers very often squint while smoking) and the lit cigarette could fall from the driver’s lips or hand, causing further distraction while the driver tries to retrieve it before it starts a fire.

Among other non-recommended activities while driving are:
  • loud music (this may mask other sounds)
  • trying to read maps
  • inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio
  • eating and drinking

Rule 149 of the Highway Code also states that drivers MUST NOT smoke in public transport vehicles or in vehicles used for work purposes. The latter includes company cars and vans.

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Cigarette Butts out Car Window

Throwing cigarette butts out a car window is littering. Annually, smokers litter about 4.5 trillion cigarette butts. Cigarette filters are not biodegradable, and rather degrade slowly since they're made of a type of plastic. Research by Clean Virginia Waterways, an affiliate of Longwood University, concluded that littered cigarette butts are toxic to the environment and small animals. Further, cigarette butts tossed from vehicles have been attributed to causing a number of land and forest fires. If the ground is dry, the heat from the lit cigarette butt can cause a brush fire or wild fire, which can spread to forests and other nearby vegetation, causing millions of dollars in damage and even occasional injuries.

Tossing that cigarette butt in a windy area can even cause damage to other vehicles. If it lands on another vehicle, the ashes and heat can cause damage to the vehicle's finish. There have even been cases where the cigarette butt has entered the engine or the interior of the car, causing a vehicle fire.

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