The claim comes after the Auckland City Council recently proposed smoking bans for parks, reserves, playgrounds and sports fields in the city.
John Paul College principal and New Zealand Secondary Schools Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said a bigger issue needed to be dealt with, both in Rotorua and nationally.
He said smoking in cars while children were present should be banned and an instant fine introduced.
"Puffing out a poisonous gas in a confined space is child abuse.
"If we can successfully ban the use of cellphones in cars, surely for the sake of our children's health we can do likewise for those who smoke in cars with children present."
He said principals often saw parents smoking in their cars while their children were inside, especially at sports grounds.
"It happens a lot in Rotorua," he said. "This should be of a higher priority than banning smoking in public places."
Mr Walsh said he was talking with Rotorua MP Todd McClay to bring about legislative change.
Mr McClay said he would ask for research to be done in Wellington on the subject.
"I do know parts of Australia have banned this. I told him I would go and get a bit of advice about research done in New Zealand."
He said no action would be taken just yet but he was happy to meet with Mr Walsh during the coming weeks to discuss other principals' concerns.
"Over the next week I will meet up with him deciding what other action is needed and put him in contact with the right minister."
Mr McClay said second-hand smoke was damaging and smoking made an impression on young people, so he asked all parents to think of this when smoking around their children.
On the Cancer Society website, second-hand smoke is listed as a cause of lung cancer.
The website also said second-hand smoke was linked to Nasal sinus cancer and there was some evidence of a link with cancers of the cervix, breast and bladder.
The society said second-hand smoke caused harm to infants and children by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or cot death), middle ear infections in children (glue ear) and low birth weight or small size at birth for babies of women exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy.
As well, second-hand smoke caused eye and nose irritation, the society said.
However, more research was needed to see if it was linked to miscarriage, harm to brain function and behaviour in children.