It took decades to move the conversation on smoking, but now it is pretty much a social faux pas to light up. Once, it was the epitome of in-crowd behaviour and carried a certain sophistication.
Will we ever get there with cars? We are, it seems to me, right in the middle of the process now. And despite progress, the outcome remains uncertain.
An article in the Oxford Academic Journal of Public Health, published in 2011, introduces the topic this way.
Caution: no words are minced in these paragraphs.
Results: Private cars cause significant health harm. The impacts include physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardio-respiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change. The car lobby resists measures that would restrict car use, using tactics similar to the tobacco industry. Decisions about location and design of neighbourhoods have created environments that reinforce and reflect car dependence. Car ownership and use has greatly increased in recent decades and there is little public support for measures that would reduce this.
Conclusions: Car dependence is a potent example of an issue that ecological public health should address. The public health community should advocate strongly for effective policies that reduce car use and increase active travel.