ETS Exposure

This page last reviewed August 11, 2015

car Environmental Tobacco Smoke Exposure in Vehicles
While ETS exposure is on the decline in California due to increased public awareness of its harmful effects, smoking in vehicles still poses a very real threat to vehicle occupants, especially children. Due to child safety seats, children are often not readily able to remove themselves from this environment and avoid this ETS exposure. And, research has shown that smoking can cause respirable suspended particle (RSP) and CO levels in cars to reach high levels when the windows are open or closed. Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that ETS in cars can reach levels comparable to smoky bars or restaurants. In addition, smoke can settle on car surfaces, including child safety seats, making it possible for children to pick up ETS with their fingers, which they may place in their mouths, causing them to ingest ETS particles. In fact, next to workplaces, homes and cars are considered the most unhealthy places in terms of ETS exposure, again particularly for children.

baby Arkansas and Louisiana were the first two states to regulate smoking in cars, recently signing similar bills into place. Arkansas now prohibits smoking in vehicles when a child of six or under is present, and Louisiana prohibits smoking when a child of 13 or under is present. California law prohibits smoking in vehicles when minors are present.  For more information on this law please see the Bill Text.

ETS exposure can lead to serious adverse health outcomes. New cases of asthma and exacerbations of pre-existing asthma can result. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has now been linked to ETS exposure. Children's exposure may also cause an increase in the number of medical visits for ear infections, or may result in more respiratory illnesses in general. Children may be at an even higher risk than adults to the effects of ETS since their immune system's are not as mature, they have smaller airways and they have a greater demand for oxygen.

Links to more information on home ETS exposure, and how to reduce exposure to children in the home are provided below.

Vehicle Exposure:

Fact Sheet on exposure to ETS in Cars Secondhand Smoke in cars Fact Sheet 
Secondhand smoke in cars may lead to dangerous levels for children Article detailing the results of a recent study produced by the Harvard School of Public Health that found hazardous levels of ETS in cars with smokers
Harvard School of Public Health Press Release HSPH announces their recent research on ETS in cars
Protecting Kids From Secondhand Smoke Homes and Cars
Kids Involuntarily Inhaling Secondhand Smoke Keeping Homes and Cars Smoke Free for Kids Kit

Research Papers and Reports:

Harvard School of Public Health Research Measuring Air Quality to Protect Children From Secondhand Smoke in Cars
California Air Resources Board Report Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant: Part A - Exposure Assessment

Contact us if you have any questions regarding ARB's ETS program, or have suggestions or comments on this page.

Robert Krieger: (916) 323-1202