Edwin Poots launches car smoking ban consultation
Health Minister Edwin Poots has said he will consider banning smoking in all cars and not just those with children as passengers.
Mr Poots was speaking on an assembly motion proposing a ban on smoking in cars carrying those under 16.
He said children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoking.
Mr Poots said his department will launch a public consultation and he urged everyone with an interest on the issue to respond to the consultation.
He said he was prepared to ban smoking in all private cars although he was aware some people would see this as a "step too far".
The minister said he had asked officials in early September to work on an action plan for implementing legislation.
Mr Poots said: "Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland. Each year approximately 2,300 people die from smoking-related illnesses.
"Passive smoking is a health issue which I take very seriously, particularly when those affected by it are children, who are more vulnerable to second-hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults."
Mr Poots told MLAs that research had shown that 15% of adults smoke in their cars when children are present.
"It also indicates that smoking in a car exposes children to levels of smoke which compare to levels found in bars before smoke-free legislation was introduced," he said.Hospital visits
During the debate on the motion - which was put forward by the UUP's John McCallister - Sinn Fein's Michaela Boyle said the Department of Health in Northern Ireland spends over £119m each year treating patients with smoke-related illnesses.
The DUP's Jim Wells also said statistics from the Ulster Cancer Foundation showed 300,000 children throughout the UK are being referred to a GP every year as a result of tobacco smoke inhalation.
He said 9,500 of these cases led to hospital visits.
Mr Wells also added that second-hand smoke in cars can be as high as ten times the concentration considered unhealthy by the American Environmental Protection Agency.
Kieran McCarthy of the Alliance Party said figures from Action Cancer revealed that 13,500 children in Northern Ireland are at risk from passive smoke.
Health committee chairperson Michelle Gildernew said a renewed public campaign on the dangers of passive smoking was needed although she felt there would be a difficulty in policing any legislation on the issue.Enclosed spaces
Earlier, Gerry McElwee of the Ulster Cancer Foundation called for young people to be protected from second-hand smoke.
"Enclosed spaces within a car mean the smoke is much more concentrated," he said.
"There are 400 chemicals in tobacco smoke, up to 60 are carcinogenic and the measurements you find in a car are up to 10 times the level you would describe as unhealthy."
Dr James Cant, head of the British Lung Foundation, Scotland and Northern Ireland said: "We find this development highly encouraging.
"Stormont would be ahead of the curve on this issue if it were to take action to protect children from passive smoke when they are in the car."
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "We don't condone people smoking in cars with children present. It's inconsiderate, certainly, but the evidence doesn't support the argument that smoking in cars is a serious health risk to children.
"Legislation is a gross over-reaction. What next, a ban on smoking in the home?"