Health experts urge MPs to back car smoking ban

Person smoking in car with a small child in the back seat Smoking was banned in most enclosed public spaces in England in 2007

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More than 700 doctors and other health experts have put their names to a letter urging MPs to back a ban in England on smoking in cars with children present.

The issue is due to be voted on in Parliament on Monday.

The signatories to the letter in the British Medical Journal say the move is needed "to protect the well-being of children now and in the future".

They include nurses, doctors and surgeons working across the NHS.

The ban being debated would apply to under-18s - as 18 is the legal age at which people can buy cigarettes.

The letter argues that second-hand smoke exposure is a "major cause of ill-health in children", particularly among the most disadvantaged groups.

It says smoking in cars exposes children to particularly "high amounts of tobacco smoke" and there is now a consensus that children should be protected from such unnecessary hazards.

Smoking in cars

  • Just over a fifth of adults smoke and just over a fifth of those admit to smoking in front of their children
  • Smoke can stay in the air for up to two and a half hours even with a window open
  • Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer
  • Exposure has been strongly linked to chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death in children
  • Research shows that 300,000 children in the UK visit the GP each year due to second-hand smoke, with 9,500 visiting hospital
  • Smoking in a car creates a higher concentration of toxins than in a bar - some research has put it at 11 times higher
  • Bans on smoking in cars when children are present already exist in some US states, including California, as well as in parts of Canada and Australia

It also says there are precedents to a ban, including laws to require people to wear seatbelts and, more recently, the ban on mobile phones while driving.

The signatories have been co-ordinated by Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, from Imperial College London, who is chairman of the British Thoracic Society's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease specialist advisory group.

He said: "This letter issues a powerful statement from the medical professionals of this country - the people who, every day, are treating illnesses brought on by second-hand smoke in children - about the rights of children to breathe clean air that won't make them sick.

"Next week, MPs have a chance to help protect children from the proven dangers of second-hand smoke.

"If they vote in favour, it could help protect the health of literally hundreds of thousands of children nationwide. If they vote against, it will go down in history as a huge missed opportunity."

Nurse Rebecca Sherrington, chairwoman of the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists, said: "Many people don't realise quite how serious second-hand smoke can be for children, especially in the concentrations that can build up in the car.

"Parents are often surprised that it can lead to illnesses such as ear infections, meningitis and cot death."

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: "Bans on smoking in cars carrying children already exist and are being enforced in countries such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA. It's about time that we started protecting children in this country too."

Tobacco specialist Peter Mackereth, from Manchester's Christie Hospital, said children's smaller undeveloped lungs and narrower airways struggled to cope with the sidestream of heavily concentrated cigarette smoke, which can contain carbon monoxide, arsenic and formaldehyde.

Tobacco specialist Peter Mackereth: "Rolling down the window... just funnels the smoke right back"

Rolling down car windows only served to funnel the smoke right back into the car towards the children in the backseats, he told BBC's Breakfast.

'Unnecessary intrusion'

Simon Clark, director of smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "Smoking in cars with children is inconsiderate but there is a line the state shouldn't cross when it comes to dictating how people behave in private places.

"Very few adults smoke in a car with children these days. We urge MPs to reject this unnecessary intrusion into people's private lives and trust parents to make the right decision for their children without the need for heavy-handed state intervention."

The vote by MPs comes after the House of Lords last week backed a Labour amendment to the Children and Families Bill.

The amendment empowers, but does not compel, the government to make it a criminal offence for drivers to fail to prevent smoking in their vehicles when children are present.

The government has now told its MPs they can have a free vote on the issue.

Labour has said that if the measure does not become law before the next election, it will be included in its manifesto.

Calls to prohibit smoking in private vehicles when children are present have been raised in Parliament on several occasions since the 2007 ban on smoking in public places came into effect.

The Welsh government has said it would consider a ban should an awareness campaign not lead to a drop in children's exposure to second-hand smoke.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume has indicated he will be presenting a bill this year to bring in a ban, while Northern Ireland's health minister has announced plans for a consultation on the issue.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    @198 CURTAINS 2012

    I'm not sure what your point is.

    My post questions the reliability of the source of this ban when those who are said to have advocated it do not include all pairs of lungs, young or adult.

    So I have not said anything different from you about the effects of smoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Although i full agree with this I think they (The police) need to start enforcing laws we already have e.g. mobile phone use by drivers. it debases the word of law to have non enforcement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Abolish the ban on smoking in public places, it's undermining democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    2 Minutes ago

    Then explain to me why WHO research says diesel exhaust is a carcinogen the same as smoking and causes cancer in humans.


    What component(s) of diesel exhaust does WHO identify as carcinogenic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    @191. nefer

    "However,if smoking is unhealthy for children in a car, then that is also the case for all adults in a car."

    Why yes, yes it is. I will never forget the time I was driving myself to HOSPITAL in the middle of an ASTHMA ATTACK; and my (now ex-) boyfriend was smoking in the passenger seat because the poor dear was stressed.

    Some smokers just don't care. That's why we sadly need laws.

  • Comment number 230.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I think they should up the amount of nicotine in the electronic cigs. Then the tax, and make real cigs illegal.

    That way those of us without the mind of a 14 year old can enjoy a nice tax break.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    @206. Ms Rant:

    I notice you are Ms - small wonder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Re 219. You are playing semantics here. The overriding principle is what matters, not pedantry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    1 Minute ago
    What sort of an idiot needs telling that smoking around kids is bad for them?


    Someone indoctrinated by FOREST on behalf of the tobacco industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    CURTAINS 2012
    6 Minutes ago

    So are you saying that stops diesel exhaust killing people?


    Harmful substances safely removed at source will not go on to cause harm!


    Then explain to me why WHO research says diesel exhaust is a carcinogen the same as smoking and causes cancer in humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Confusing the issue with pollution from cars is not helpful. We can all agree that we want all children to breathe clean air wherever possible. To this end we should drive less, in cleaner cars/lorries and generate energy from cleaner sources. We should also not smoke around children in any situation. Legislation for the former education for the latter.

    Also agreement that kids need clean air!

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    As a life-long non smoker, I'd be happy to see a total ban on cigarettes, but smoking is a lawful activity and smokers should not be demonised. This is an infringement on the "sovereignty" of a smoker's family life. What next? Take the children of smokers into care to protect them from further such "parental abuse"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Having ar fag is a matter of personal choice,but others need to be considered too. Kids in the car have little choice which can't be right! And I am no lover of the nanny state!

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    206. Ms Rant
    Smokers - you stink! Your clothes smell, your breathe smells, your hair smells, your cars smell, your homes smell - don't try to kid yourselves otherwise. If it was sewerage would you want that smell around you all the time?
    Looking at your attitude, smoking acts quite nicely as a moron repellent for them. I want to start smoking reading this intolerance in a free country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    What sort of an idiot needs telling that smoking around kids is bad for them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    209 - Adam C

    Your synopsis is too simplistic. All cars are different & your presumption depends on window aperture, inconsistant air pressures, thermodynamics, intermittent areas of vacuum & the general dimensions within the vehicle.

    By the way, I don't smoke in my car or near to children.

  • Comment number 218.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Once again the wrong issue is being argued about. There isn't one Doctor on the planet that will confirm that Tobacco is dangerous to a human being. However, they will ALL confirm that Cigarettes and Hand Rolling Tobacco from most major manufacturers is harmful as it contains 4,000 ADDED chemicals. Tobacco does not contain arsenic and formaldehyde until it's ADDED! Who are the real criminals here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    @206.Ms Rant
    'Smokers - you stink! Your clothes smell, your breathe smells, your hair smells, your cars smell, your homes smell - don't try to kid yourselves otherwise. If it was sewerage would you want that smell around you all the time? So why inflict it on other people?'
    Maybe get on the nerves of self rightous judgemental ppl like yourself, or more likely because nicotine is highly addictive.


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