BMA urges Welsh government to ban smoking in cars

Smoker in car
Image caption The BMA says children are much more vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke

Doctors' leaders have called on the Welsh government to follow through its plan to ban smoking in cars.

Ministers have said they will consider it if a campaign to highlight the issue changes people's attitudes.

Now the British Medical Association (BMA) says there is compelling evidence to extend Wales' ban on smoking in public places.

But motoring groups said a ban would be unworkable, and smokers' lobby body Forest said evidence of harm was weak.

Wales introduced a ban on smoking in public places such as pubs and restaurants in April 2007.

In October 2010, Wales' chief medical officer, Dr Tony Jewell, said it was "unfair for children to bear the brunt of other people's habits" by living in homes or travelling in cars where people smoked.

'Bold and courageous'

He said the Welsh ban on tobacco vending machines from February 2012 "goes some way in addressing the problem but we must go further".

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

The BMA has called on UK governments to take the "bold and courageous step" of extending the smoking ban.

It said toxin levels in a smoky car can be 23 times higher than in a typical smoky bar, while children absorb more pollutants than adults and their immature immune systems are less able to cope with the effects of second-hand smoke.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's director of professional activities, said: "The evidence for extending the smoke-free legislation is compelling.

"The current UK government prefers voluntary measures or 'nudging' to bring about public health change, but this stance has been shown to fail time and time again."

'Harmful effects'

A spokesman for the AA said: "It's fine in principle, but there's a problem with enforcing it.

"Do we want police chasing round after people smoking in their cars? Perhaps it would take a lower priority over drink-drivers and people who speed."

Forest director Simon Clark called legislation a "gross over-reaction".

"There is no justification for a ban on smoking in cars, with or without children present. The evidence that it is harmful to other passengers is weak, to say the least.

In July, First Minister Carwyn Jones said legislation would be "the next logical step" following the ban on smoking in enclosed areas such as offices, pubs and restaurants.

There would be a renewed campaign to tackle smoking and he would "consider pursuing legislative options" if children's exposure to second-hand smoke did not start to fall within three years.

A Welsh government spokesman said it will commission research during the campaign to evaluate changes in the attitudes of adult smokers to exposing people to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke in vehicles.

"The Welsh government will consider pursuing legislative options if children's exposure to second-hand smoke does not start to fall within the next three years, based on the findings of public surveys," he said.

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