Smoking in your car with children ‘to be outlawed’

A BID to ban smoking in cars carrying children as passengers has been backed by doctors and health charities.

An image from an NHS campaign warning of the dangers of smoking near children. Picture: PA

• Smoking in vehicles in the presence of children should be outlawed, says MSP

• Move will “safeguard the rights of children”, says Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume

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The proposal, which was launched in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, would introduce fines for those who light up inside vehicles when children are travelling with them.

The member’s bill proposed by the Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume suggests that Scotland follows similar measures in Canada and Australia.

The Scottish Government has yet to formally endorse the move, although its tobacco control strategy is committed to raising the awareness of the harm done to children by passive smoking in cars.

Mr Hume has attracted some cross-party support for his proposal which is now open for public consultation until 30 August.

Under his Proposed Smoking (Children in Vehicles) (Scotland) Bill, those caught smoking in a vehicle carrying children would be given a fixed penalty fine of £60.

Mr Hume said: “I believe £60 represents a proportionate penalty in response to the offence. It also matches penalties awarded for being found to be using a hand-held device while in control of a vehicle or failure to wear a seatbelt.”

Unlike those other offences, the bill states that smokers would not be punished by having penalty points added to their licences. The absence of a penalty-points punishment reflects the fact that smoking in a car is not a “motoring offence” and that the offender might be a passenger in the car or may not even hold a driving licence.

Mr Hume argued that his bill would safeguard the rights of children.

He also denied suggestions from smokers’ rights campaigners that his legislation could open the door for banning smoking in the home if children are present.

The MSP said that his bill dealt exclusively with smoking in vehicles.

“Seventeen per cent of children in the UK are legally exposed to passive smoking in vehicles more than once a week,” Mr Hume said.

Several health organisations backed the ban, but a smokers’ campaign group said the law would be unenforceable.

The British Lung Foundation has urged Scottish politicians to do more to stop people smoking in cars when children are passengers.

In 2011, a Scottish study suggested air quality inside a smoker’s car was comparable to industrial smog in cities such as Beijing or Moscow – even when windows were open.

Research by the University of Aberdeen found that 7 per cent of 11-year-olds experience smoking in cars. Brian McKendrick, of the British Heart Foundation Scotland, said: “There is no excuse for allowing children to be exposed to second-hand smoke in any environment, especially in a tightly enclosed one like a vehicle.

“British Heart Foundation Scotland believes a ban on smoking in cars when children are present is urgently needed. It’s great to see Jim Hume leading the fight to protect children’s health, and we urge every MSP to get behind him and give his proposed bill their full backing.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Our tobacco control strategy set a commitment to raise awareness of the harm caused by second-hand smoke in cars and other enclosed spaces in order to further protect children from the risks to health caused by exposure to tobacco smoke.

“We will consider the impact of awareness-raising activities in deciding whether any further measures are required.”

However, campaigners criticised the proposed bill. Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “We don’t encourage adults to smoke in cars carrying children but legislation is disproportionate to the problem.

“Most smokers are sensible enough to know that lighting up in a car with children is inconsiderate at best and research suggests that only a tiny minority still do it.

“Education has to be better than yet another law that would be very difficult to enforce.”

He added: “A ban on smoking in private vehicles would represent a major intrusion into people’s private lives. What next, a ban on smoking in the home if children are present?”

However, Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said: “Smoking can lead to ill-health and premature death, and a child’s right to protection from harm should override an adult’s right to smoke in their car. We must do all we can to protect the health and development of today’s young people as well as the next generation.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland, said: “I don’t think anybody should have to breathe this harmful substance involuntarily.”

Analysis: A victory for health and our children’s futures or nanny state at work

Simon Clark says no to the ban

I DO not condone smoking in cars carrying children and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do it. Common sense tells you that it’s inconsiderate at best, but that doesn’t justify state intervention.

Nor is state intervention necessary.

In July 2011, using an online panel of 1,000 adult smokers, Holden Pearmain, the market research and opinion polling company, found that 45 per cent of smokers never smoke in their cars; 76 per cent would never smoke if children were present (a further 11 per cent would ask first); 51 per cent thought a ban would be “very difficult” or “impossible” to enforce, and only 13.6 per cent of smokers would smoke as normal if children were present in a car.

A recent study by the University College Dublin School of Public Health, published in the Irish Medical Journal in April this year, found an even lower prevalence of smoking in cars with children.

The study, which involved observing 2,230 drivers in Dublin, found that a ban on smoking in cars would have little impact because so few drivers (1.39 per cent) were seen smoking while driving.

Researchers concluded that the “resources required for a ban in vehicles may be labour intensive for the yield in detection or prevention”.

If the same research were carried out in Scotland, I believe there would be a very similar result.

The vast majority of adult smokers have changed their behaviour voluntarily without the need for legislation.

Why, then, do politicians need to get involved?

Education has to be better than coercion.

The cost of introducing legislation, enforcing it and prosecuting a handful of people is disproportionate to the problem. (The alleged threat of “second-hand” smoke in cars is based on worst-case scenarios that rarely, if ever, exist in real life.)

Legislation won’t stop here because tobacco control campaigners are never satisfied.

The British Medical Association wants smoking banned in all private vehicles. If they get their way a lone adult, lighting a cigarette in his own car, could be prosecuted as well.

For most of us our car is a private space. What next, a ban on smoking in the home?

• Simon Clark is director of the consumer group Forest.

James Cant says yes

TO CONSIDER whether it is right to introduce a ban on smoking in cars carrying children, we need to take emotions and politics out of this, and look at the evidence.

Firstly, we know that passive smoke is harmful, but can you not avert this danger in a car by opening the windows? Research says not: a 2012 study by the University of Aberdeen showed smoking in the car, even with the window down or air conditioning on, creates levels of pollution that exceed official World Health Organisation safe limits.

That this unhealthy concentration of smoke, caused by the small enclosed nature of the car, is far greater than you generally see in the home is why we can also dismiss claims that this legislation will inevitably lead to a ban on smoking at home or elsewhere: the conditions are simply not the same.

Secondly, is legislation not an overreaction to a relatively minor problem? Unfortunately not – independent research by the NHS in 2010 found that around one in five children – equivalent to more than two million children across the UK, including nearly 240,000 children in Scotland alone – is regularly exposed to cigarette smoke in the car.

Surely the health of two million kids is not a minority issue?

Thirdly, is this law even enforceable? Well, our experience with laws around seatbelts, mobile phone use while driving, and smoking in work vehicles suggest that it is, as does evidence from Australia and Canada where such a law is in place.

However, this is not an attempt to criminalise smokers. It is an attempt to encourage people to change their smoking habits and, again, the evidence suggests legislation is the most effective method of bringing about this kind of behaviour change.

Overall, 300,000 GP visits and nearly 10,000 hospital admissions across the UK result from second-hand smoke in children each year. This is a problem that needs to be tackled, and protecting children from the dangers of concentrated second-hand smoke in cars is a simple step we can take towards doing this.

Research suggests 80 per cent of the public, including the majority of smokers, support this important child protection legislation. It is time our government did, too.

• James Cant is head of the British Lung Foundation Scotland.

In numbers

7% of children, according to a 2007 survey, had been subjected to second-hand smoke in a vehicle the previous day. Some 2,559 primary-seven children were polled.

9%-10% of all Scottish car journeys involve exposure to second-hand smoke, scientific research suggests.

35% of children between the ages of eight and 13 were exposed to second-hand smoke by their parents while in a vehicle, according to a 2009 Department of Health survey in England, covering 1,009 youngsters.

51% of youngsters aged eight to 15 had been exposed to second-hand smoke while a passenger in a vehicle, said a British Lung Foundation survey in 2011 of 1,000 children.