No fines issued for smoking in cars with children

Driver smoking Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Legislation introduced in October 2015 makes it illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying someone who is under 18

Police are choosing not to enforce a new law protecting children from people smoking in cars, figures suggest.

Legislation introduced in October 2015 makes it illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying someone who is under 18.

At the time the new law was hailed as "a landmark in protecting children from second hand smoke".

But in the first seven months only three police forces in England and Wales reported incidents and all were dealt with by verbal warnings.

The forces that recorded warnings were the Metropolitan Police, which issued two, Dyfed-Powys Police, which issued four, and Devon & Cornwall Police, which issued one warning.

Under the law, any driver or passenger who smokes when a passenger under 18 is with them is liable for a £50 fine.

But according to Freedom of Information responses from 42 English and Welsh forces, no fines have been issued since the law came into force.

Image caption Devon and Cornwall Police Federation branch spokesman Nigel Rabbitts said the legislation "hasn't been thought through"

Nigel Rabbits, branch spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police Federation, which represents officers, said the figures were not surprising because the law is unenforceable.

He said: "It is poor legislation that hasn't been thought through and it's very difficult to enforce because you are talking about looking at a vehicle and trying to figure out what's going on inside.

"If you're looking for someone under the age of 18 that's difficult without stopping the vehicle and once the vehicle has been stopped getting the evidence for prosecution is extremely difficult."

'Social law'

Mr Rabbitts said the new law, introduced by the Department of Health, left officers "confused as to where they stand".

He said while police and councils can enforce the law, it is the responsibility of the local authority to take the prosecution forward.

The legislation followed advice from health experts, who said it was necessary to protect about three million children a year exposed in this way to the effects of second hand smoke.

Anti-smoking campaigner Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking and Health said: "This is a social law. We are never going to see the police putting a large amount of effort into it.

"But by having the legislation and penalties we send a strong message to people that this is no longer acceptable."

The Department of Health said many people smoking with children in the car were unaware of how harmful it could be.

"In changing the law we always said the measure of success would be in changes in attitude and behaviour, not number of enforcement actions," a statement from the department said.

"As with other smoke-free legislation, we expect high levels of compliance with this change that will continue to grow."

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