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Smoking in a car with children present may become a criminal offence (30 January 2014)

Date: 30/01/2014
Duncan Lewis, Family Solicitors, Smoking in a car with children present may become a criminal offence

The Lords has passed an Amendment to the Children and Families Bill which would introduce a ban on smoking in cars where children are passengers.

The government opposed the Labour Amendment, which would make it an offence to light up in a vehicle when children were present. The government was in favour of more public information about the dangers of passive smoking for children, but the Lords said the issue was about protecting children.

There will be a free vote on the Amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons.

The government could also make smoking in a vehicle in the presence of minors a criminal offence in the future if the Labour-tabled Amendment is passed – the Labour Party has already pledged that if it wins the 2015 General Election, it would outlaw smoking in cars when children are present.

The government is concerned that banning smoking in vehicles when children are passengers via an Amendment to the Children and Families Bill would act as a “blunt instrument” – although smoking is already banned in cars and other vehicles which are used for working purposes, such as taxis and minicabs.

Research identified by the British Lung Foundation shows that just one cigarette smoked while a car is moving and has a window half open, exposes a child sitting on the centre of the back seat to approximately two-thirds as much second-hand cigarette smoke as that in a smoke-filled pub before the smoking ban was introduced.

The amount of cigarette smoke involved in passive smoking for children sitting on the back seat of a car increases 11-fold when the car is stationary with the windows shut.

Cigarette smoke emits harmful toxins such as carbon monoxide, which can be lethal in small enclosed spaces without ventilation.

Harmful tar is also a by-product of cigarette smoke – and this coats the lining of the lungs and other organs.

The effects of nicotine on the brain are almost instant, as nicotine-filled smoke is quickly transported to the lungs and in the bloodstream to the brain within seconds of inhaling on a cigarette or through passive smoking.

Some Conservative Peers opposed the Amendment to the Children and Families Bill, however.

Tory peer Lord Cormack argued that the Amendment would bring the State “into the private space of individuals”.

However, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath – one of the Labour peers who tabled the Amendment – said that he was “very surprised” by the research cited by the British Lung Foundation, and although a car was considered by some to be a private space, “there are more important principles than that” – including the need for child protection.

“Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how to travel – they lack the authority most adults have to ask people not to smoke in their company,” he said.
"And in those circumstances I think it is right for Parliament to step in to protect children.”
The Amendment was passed in the Lords by 222 votes to 197.

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