Call to protect children from smoking in homes and cars

Smoking in car
Image caption The chief medical officer said children should be protected from second-hand smoke in cars

Smoking in the homes of children and the cars they travel in should be restricted to protect them from second-hand smoke, says Wales' top doctor.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Tony Jewell said it was "unfair for children to bear the brunt of other people's habits".

Wales brought in a ban on smoking in enclosed public places in April 2007.

A senior environmental health officer said any legislation controlling behaviour in homes would be "despised".

In his annual report, Dr Jewell said the number of deaths from smoking in Wales is still too high at about 5,650 a year.

He said smoking costs the Welsh NHS around £386m a year, equivalent to £129 per person or 7% of total healthcare expenditure.

He said people "know that smoking is a dangerous habit, but choose to ignore the facts".

But children had an increased risk of asthma, middle ear infections and cot death when exposed to second-hand smoke and were then also more likely to become smokers as adults, said Dr Jewell.

In his 2009 annual report to be published later, he said the proposed ban on tobacco vending machines and shop promotions for tobacco products "goes some way in addressing the problem but we must go further".

He said if the assembly government extended the ban on smoking to private cars and encouraged smoke-free policies in homes where children live, it would help to discourage children from taking up smoking themselves in later life and may help some adults to quit.

He said: "As a society, creating such a measure is a powerful statement of intent about our commitment to the health of our children.

Image caption Smoking in enclosed public places in Wales has been banned since April 2007

"It could be seen as the final piece of the protection picture or at least adding to the growing public consensus on the social acceptability of smoking."

But Julie Barrett, director of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health in Wales, told BBC Radio Wales: "Any legislation that tried to control the way people behaved in their homes will be deeply, deeply despised.

"I certainly would not want a position where environmental health officers would be trying to get into people's houses to control the way they behave."

Tanya Buchanan, chief executive of Ash Wales, said more needed to be done to educate people about the risks for children of second-hand smoke.

She said: "There's minimal understanding that exposing your baby to second-hand smoke increases its risk of cot death four fold.

"That's not well known and we're not doing enough to get the information out to parents."

'Individual freedom'

The Tobacco Manufacturers Association's said Dr Jewell's proposals were "a step too far and an unwarranted intrusion on individual freedom".

It said: "In private vehicles, adults should be free to smoke, provided they do not light up or smoke in a way that would distract from safe driving.

"They should also show due consideration for other occupants and dispose of cigarette ends responsibly in ashtrays."

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