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UK doctors urge ban on smoking in cars

A German police officer stops a car to inform the driver that smoking while driving is dangerous.
A German police officer stops a car to inform the driver that smoking while driving is dangerous.
  • British doctors group calls for ban on all smoking in cars
  • Secondhand smoke in vehicle can cause health problems for children and adults
  • Smokers' lobby group attacks proposals: are first step to banning smoking in homes
  • Smoking

London, England (CNN) -- A British doctors group called Wednesday for a ban on all smoking in cars, saying the secondhand smoke inside a vehicle can cause severe health problems for children and adults.

The Royal College of Physicians made the recommendation in a new report on how secondhand smoke, also called passive smoking, affects children.

The report found that, for children, secondhand smoke annually causes more than 20,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infection, 120,000 cases of middle ear disease, at least 22,000 cases of wheezing and asthma, 200 cases of bacterial meningitis, and 40 sudden infant deaths.

These cases generate more than 300,000 doctor visits each year and about 9,500 hospital admissions, costing the National Health Service about £23.3 million ($34.9 million) each year, the report said.

The findings were based on studies funded by Cancer Research UK and carried out by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies.

England's chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, said the report will contribute to the the government's review of existing smoking legislation in England later this year. Smoking was made illegal in all public spaces in the United Kingdom in 2007.

"This is a serious public health concern," Donaldson said.

Health effects on children from secondhand smoke are "entirely avoidable," the report says. It laid out a series of policy recommendations to reduce those effects, including the ban on smoking in cars.

"Smoke-free legislation should be extended much more widely to include public places frequented by children and young people, and to prohibit all smoking in cars and other vehicles," the report urged.

The report also urged a hike in tobacco prices, more effective health warnings, more generic packaging for tobacco products, and tailored stop-smoking services.

"This report isn't just about protecting children from passive smoking, it's about taking smoking completely out of children's lives," said John Britton, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians' Tobacco Advisory Group.

Smokers' lobby group Forest said the proposals "go way beyond what is acceptable in a free society" and are a first step to banning smoking in homes.

"We wouldn't encourage people to smoke around children, but adults should be allowed to use their common sense and act accordingly," said Simon Clark, director of Forest. "We don't need laws to regulate every aspect of our behavior."

Clark said the report's claims are a "huge exaggeration."

"Unfortunately the anti-smoking industry isn't interested in compromise. It just wants to bully smokers until they quit," Clark said.