Passive attack

Philip HuntPhil Hunt on why it’s time to protect children’s health by banning smoking in cars

In a series of u turns, the Coalition government has finally recognised the need for tougher action on smoking. But their half-hearted response reflects their closeness to the tobacco industry as they have continually failed in their duty to protect future generations from the dangers of smoking. 

Following on from Ministers’ belated agreement to legislate on standardised packaging, they are now proposing to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18 year olds. This is a sensible step. Whilst e-cigarettes can help smokers who are trying to quit, they shouldn't be available to children.

But the government could do so much more, starting with a ban on the smoking of cigarettes in cars when children are present. Labour has an amendment to the Children and Families Bill in the Lords to do just that, and the issue will be debated later today.

Children's smaller lungs and faster breathing rates make them especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke, especially within the small enclosed confines of a car. Members of the public are protected by smokefree legislation in public transport and in work vehicles, but large numbers of children remain exposed to high concentrations of second-hand smoke when confined in family cars. Research has shown that a single cigarette smoked in a moving car with the window half open exposes a child in the centre of the back seat to around two thirds as much second-hand smoke as in an average smoke-filled pub. Levels increase to over eleven times those of a smoky pub when the cigarette is smoked in a stationary car with the windows closed. 

Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how they travel, and lack the authority most adults have to ask people not to smoke in their company. It is therefore right that we should legislate to protect them where they are unable to protect themselves. 

The law would not be designed to turn smokers into criminals. It is about protecting children by bringing about a change in smoking behaviour. To take wearing seatbelts as an example, research by the WHO showed that introducing legislation increased the number of people wearing seatbelts in this country from 25% to 91%. If legislation on smoking in cars carrying children had even half that success, it would have a significant effect on a substantial number of lives. 

A YouGov poll in 2011 found that 78% of adults in Great Britain agreed that smoking should be banned in cars carrying children younger than 18 years of age. A British Lung Foundation survey in 2011 found 86% of children want action to be taken to protect them from cigarette smoke in cars. 

My amendment today would commit to the principle of the ban. We would then be very willing to work on a cross-party basis to consult on what type of offence it should be. 

Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordPhilofBrum

Published 29th January 2014

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