A mum who stubbed out her habit has added her voice to calls for drivers to pack in the tabs as she admits her regret over smoking at the wheel.
Kelly Johnson, 25, from Houghton, says she wished she had never smoked in the car as she drove with her children in the back.
From today, it will be illegal to smoke in a vehicle with under 18s inside, in a move which aims to protect thousands of children from the harm of second-hand smoke.
Kelly, who is mum to Ava, 11 weeks, Alfie, four, April, six, and Daniel, eight, said: “Before I quit smoking, I would always try not to smoke in front of the kids, but there were times when I’d think nothing of lighting up in the car. I’d always put the windows right down to make sure the car was fully ventilated, but I realise that even with putting the windows down my kids would still have been able to breathe in my smoke.
“I feel really guilty as a parent looking back, because my smoking in the car wasn’t fair on my children.
“It was my choice to smoke, not theirs. Thinking about the harm that my smoking might have been doing to their health now upsets me, because I understand the dangers.
Thinking about the harm that my smoking might have been doing to their health now upsets me because I understand the dangers.Kelly Johnson
“I’m really proud of me and my husband for quitting.
“We have been smokers since we were teenagers and smoked more than 20 roll-ups a day.
“It’s taken me a few attempts, but I feel so much better now that I’ve quit.
“All of the money I’m saving from not spending on tobacco can now go on spoiling my new baby.” Under the ban, both the driver and the smoker can be fined £50 if anyone smokes in a vehicle with a person who is under 18.
Newcastle University, Public Health England and Fresh Smoke Free North East, conducted an experiment to highlight the dangers of exposure to second-hand smoke in vehicles.
This tested the levels of dangerous chemicals, which children can be exposed in the back seat of a car when a driver is smoking, and opening the car windows does not remove the harmful effects.
The experiment showed even with the window open, levels of dangerous chemicals were more than 100 times higher than recommended safety guidelines.
Children are particularly vulnerable as they breathe more rapidly and have less developed airways and immune systems.
Second-hand smoke is made up of more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer.
Lisa Surtees, acting director of Fresh, which tackles smoking rates and related illnesses, said: “Most smokers nowadays avoid smoking around children, but a significant number of children are still exposed to smoke which contains harmful poisons, like carbon monoxide and arsenic, and puts them at increased risk of meningitis and respiratory infections.”