BROOKSVILLE — The sleeping child may be safely buckled into his car seat, but if the driver is smoking a cigarette, the air around that child poses real health risks.
In an effort to increase awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke, the Hernando County Health Department recently partnered with the county Tax Collector's Office to distribute grant-funded fliers inside each tax bill envelope.
The message is clear: Smoking with a child in the car puts the youngster at risk. Large letters across the ad spell it out: "Your car. Your smoke. Their future."
Secondhand smoke hazards for children have been clearly established, said Ann-Gayl Ellis, Health Department spokeswoman. A child exposed to secondhand smoke is at greater risk for asthma and respiratory infections now, and heart and lung disease later, even if he never chooses to smoke a cigarette himself.
Those concerns have led several states to pass legislation making it illegal to smoke in an automobile while children are present. There are no such laws in Florida, but some would like to see them, Ellis said.
The partnership with the Tax Collector's Office is the first of its kind in Hernando County. The office mails to about 65,000 households a year and it costs nothing to add the flier.
Without this partnership, the Health Department would never be able to afford such a campaign, Ellis said.
Many parents don't realize that the effects of secondhand smoke linger, sometimes for decades. A recent study found that adults who lived with a smoker during their childhood were more likely to show lung damage consistent with early-stage emphysema.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of Floridians smoke, leading to nearly 29,000 deaths attributable to smoking each year.
"Seventy percent of smokers (say they) want to quit," said Ellis. "They hate that they're dependent on it. They hate that they count their cigarettes each day to make sure they have enough."
The campaign, officials said, is one step in helping parents make sure their habit doesn't affect their children.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.