Top doctors call for complete ban on smoking in cars

Doctors' leaders have called for an outright ban on smoking in cars as new laws are brought in today to protect children from second-hand smoke.

A new law has banned smoking in cars with children. Picture: John Devlin.
A new law has banned smoking in cars with children. Picture: John Devlin.

Drivers or passengers caught smoking in private vehicles with children on board could be fined up to £1,000 under legislation which was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in December last year.

The bill, introduced by former Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume, aims to prevent young people from being exposed to second-hand smoke which can cause serious health concerns such as bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma.

Smoking just one cigarette in a car could lead to ten times the level of pollution of a non-smoking vehicle, according to research published by Aberdeen University experts in 2012.

Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of BMA Scotland, said the move was a welcome first step but called for a complete ban to protect adults as well as children. However, smokers’ rights campaigners said an outright ban was “completely unjustified” as adults could choose whether or not to travel in a car with a smoker.

Dr Bennie said: “Doctors witness first-hand the devastating effects of smoking-related harms on their patients.

“Children are still developing physically and, as a result, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

“When someone smokes in a vehicle it creates a concentrated source of exposure to second-hand smoke.

“An outright ban on smoking in vehicles would ensure that adults and particularly vulnerable adults who may be unable to object to others smoking while they are present, are also protected. This would also be easier to enforce.”

Smoking remains a major public health issue in Scotland and tobacco use is linked to around 10,000 deaths per year.

The latest household survey found the number of smokers has fallen over the past 15 years but around a fifth of Scottish adults are still lighting up.

Smoking is most prevalent in deprived areas where one in three people smokes, compared to fewer than one in ten in the most affluent neighbourhoods.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “Banning smoking in all private vehicles regardless of the presence of children is completely unjustified.

“We don’t condone smoking in cars with children, which is inconsiderate. Adults, however, have a choice and if the driver is smoking we can choose not to travel in the same vehicle.

“If a driver is on his own there’s no reason at all to ban smoking in cars. It’s a private space and should be treated as such.”

Responding to the call for a complete ban on smoking in vehicles, Mr Clark condemned the idea as “needlessly illiberal”.

He added: “There’s no evidence that smoking while driving is a road safety issue. The only reason to ban it is to make life as awkward as possible for adults who smoke.”Health campaigners said debate would be needed around plans for a complete ban to garner public support, as a recent poll showed the new law to protect children in cars is backed by around 75 per cent of Scottish adults.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland, said around one in six 15-year-olds are being exposed to second-hand smoke in the car.

She said: “We know from speaking to parents that they want to protect their children from tobacco smoke, but often don’t know enough about how smoke is harmful and lingers in the air even after you can’t see or smell it. This legislation sends a clear message that children should grow up in a smoke-free environment, and who could disagree with that?”

Ms Duffy called for debate around whether the law should be extended to include every private vehicle. She said: “The issue is that toxic smoke is dangerous for anyone. Children are particularly vulnerable but we need to look at adults too.

“I think we need public support for a law like this and we would look forward to that debate taking place.”

Irene Johnstone, head of the British Lung Foundation in Scotland said: “As 85 per cent of second-hand smoke is invisible and odourless, many may not be aware of the dangerous levels reached, even in short car journeys.”

Former Lib Dem MSP for South Scotland Jim Hume said the legislation would protect thousands of young people from second-hand smoke.

Mr Hume, whose mother Joyce died of lung cancer caused by second-hand smoke, said: “It fills me with great pride that through hard work and cross-party consensus, we are now seeing the introduction of a law which can potentially save 60,000 children a year from the hazards of second-hand smoke.”

The Scottish Government declined to comment on a complete ban but said the move to safeguard children is part of its plans to create a “tobacco-free generation” by 2034, defined as a smoking rate of less than 5 per cent.