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 295.

    281. CURTAINS 2012
    How does a smoker have the right to force a non-smoker to inhale tobacco smoke?
    How does a non-smoker have the right to force a smoker to stop a legal (if uninformed) habit?

    I'm no smoker, but slow erosion of freedoms is a slippery slope, and spun off the back of moral outrages. In the pantheon of serious evils found in the UK, bashing a smoker is picking the 'easy' target

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Smoking is disgusting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Health experts urge MPs to back car smoking ban.

    And ignore fracking, nuclear emissions (5x childhood incidence of leukaemia W. of Winfrith), city pollution and so on.
    Let the rabble turn on themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Without a shadow of a doubt it's bad to smoke in a car, but why is this nanny-state so obsessed with legislating against and banning absolutely everything. It's completely unenforceable (like mobile phones in cars) and raises other issues (eg: smoking in the same room as kids at home - any different?). The UK is sinking in an endless mire of dos and don'ts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Two things disturb me here.

    1) That some parents are stupid enough to smoke in an enclosed vehicle whilst children are in the car.

    2) That the state meddles so much in our lives.

    Slowly but surely everything gets dumbed down, so people behave more stupid (smoking in car)... so more legislation is introduced..

    We need to get out of this stupidity spiral and get back to common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    You have to be really really dumb not to understand that smoking in a confined space causes children harm. Do objectors think children should be exempt from the protection the rest of us have in shared spaces?Children are vulnerable to the actions of adults and as such need MORE protection NOT less. Why would anyone think their 'right'' to smoke should outweigh a child's right not to be harmed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    'If you're driving along having a cig you are probably travelling faster than most people can run. You may not have a child in the car and smoking is LEGAL - something many people here are forgetting.'

    Could be stopped at lights or crawling in a jam. The argument here is whether smoking in a car with kids should be legal. Laws can be changed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    If someone is stupid enough to smoke whilst pregnant, she deserves everything she gets. However, as it isn't illegal (yet) to smoke, she is perfectly at liberty to do so. She has more rights than her (as yet unborn) child. BTW both my parents smoke - my mum right thru 2 pregnancies - and so far I have not discovered any health issues caused by it in my 61 years as a non-smoker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    "277 MassMediocrity
    This is a free country, and smoking isnt illegal. Your rights are no more, nor less than a smokers You are not better than someone who smokes"

    Its not about being "better" its about all of us having the right to fresh air without others thinking they have a right to pollute it and not give a damn! Kill yourself if you want to but dont think you have a right to do it to others

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Lets go all the way and just ban smoking, eveyone knows it's the right thing to do.
    These idiots who claim "the right" to do whatever they want need to learn what democracy means, if the majority say something is illegal then it is illegal. This is the reason child mollesting and rape are not acceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    12 Minutes ago

    Group 1 carcinogens


    Group 2 carcinogens

    Nitrobenzathrone (a deadly carcinogen)

    And there are many more


    You omit the quantities and the proportions of what you list compared with other sources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I remember being a kid and my Dad smoked - in the car and at home. Me and my sisters hated it - I used to throw his cigs outside. He'd get angry and say he could do what he wanted. We had no choice but to breath in that stuff every day. Some parents don't seem to care - and someone has to stand up for these kids. So yes, ban it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I'm quite intrigued that my comment @261 re pregnant women smoking, has been marked down by some people. Guess that tells you something about people's ability to care and take responsibility for their own actions when it comes to harming others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    CURTAINS 2012
    53 Minutes ago

    Do cigarettes come with exhaust filters as diesel vehicles do?
    Harmful substances safely removed at source will not go on to cause harm!


    I assume you have proof that diesel exhaust filters stop all cancer causing carcinogens because i would be interested in seeing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    2 Minutes ago
    Your 'rights' (great how everyone know their rights eh?) are no more, nor less than a smokers. You are not 'better' than someone who smokes


    How does a smoker have the right to force a non-smoker to inhale tobacco smoke?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Ah divide and rule - oh happy land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    People who think smoking is a "right" for people who want to, and government should leave smokers alone, look at it this way.

    If my thing was playing death metal really loud in public all day, I'd be vilified for being antisocial and probably talked to by the cops.

    How then, is it OK for someone's thing to be inhaling - then forcing everyone else to inhale - proven carcinogenic material?


  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    If it enforced as well as not using hand held mobile phones or everyone in the car wearing seat belts then it will be pointless. I have seen people on their mobile while smoking. That leaves no hands to steer with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    273. Cheddar George
    A person's right to fresh air trumps a smoker's right to kill themselves slowly by inhaling carcinogens.
    No. Like it or not, this is a free country, and smoking isn't illegal, other than rightfully indoors & now in cars with children. Your 'rights' (great how everyone know their rights eh?) are no more, nor less than a smokers. You are not 'better' than someone who smokes

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    We can see where this is going - the children of smokers will be taken into care if parents don't stop.

    While it may be a good idea, it is completely unworkable. What are they going to do to stop them smoking? Put minitaure fire extinguishers on the dash board that put out the cigarette?


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