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Blog: Should we ban smoking in cars with children?

Labour wants to make it illegal for drivers to light up in the presence of children. You may agree that this is a bad habit – but is legislation really the right solution?

Hand of a person smoking while driving

A new law proposed by Labour this week has perhaps provoked more controversy than the party expected.

The opposition wants it to be made illegal to smoke in a car when children are present.

House of Lords support smoking ban

Labour has added an amendment to this effect to the Children and Families Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament.

The House of Lords has now approved the amendment, which means the law could come into effect soon as next month.

The Bill is due to be debated in the Commons in February and the government may allow its MPs a free vote, which means members of parliament can vote as they wish and not as their party tells them to.

A free vote would increase the chances of the amendment being accepted.

But the planned legislation raises two questions: firstly, is it wrong to smoke in an enclosed space when children are around?

And if so, is a new law the best way to deal with the issue?

Secondhand smoke risk increased in cars

According to the British Lung Foundation, smoking in a car exposes passengers to far more secondhand smoke than it would in a pub, for example.

The charity believes that around 185,000 British children aged between 11 and 15 are exposed to smoke in their family car on most days of the week.

If the science behind the ban on smoking in the workplace is correct, then it is hard to believe that smoking in a vehicle is any less damaging.

But Simon Clark, director of pro-smoking group Forest, says: "We think legislation is a very heavy-handed way to tackle this problem.

"The vast majority of smokers wouldn't dream of lighting a cigarette in a car with a child."

Smoking in cars: Where the law stands

At present, there are no laws in the UK that directly relate to smoking at the wheel.

However, motorists who are distracted from the road by lighting up or dropping a cigarette, for example, could be stopped for driving without due care and attention.

This could equally apply to someone who was trying to read a map while driving.

Jeanette Miller, a motoring lawyer and senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, says that the principle behind Labour's proposals is sound.

'Put children's needs first'

"Even with a window open, a parent who smokes in the car is clearly putting their own needs before their child's health.

A man smoking in a car

"So I think it is right for the government to step in to protect the child," she says.

"There is an additional safety issue connected with drivers who choose to light up behind the wheel.

"Even to the most experienced smoker lighting a cigarette while driving can be a danger."

But Miller adds that the law as it stands can deal with the safety issue to some extent.

"Speaking as an ex-smoker myself, the risks of hazardous driving that can be caused by hot ash or the cigarette itself being blown back inside a car would almost certainly result in some form of motoring offence prosecution if observed by the police."

Can a child car smoking ban be enforced?

But many commentators have questioned whether the police will be able to successfully enforce Labour's law if it is passed.

And Miller says that innocent drivers could find it more difficult to clear their names.

"It's not like with a mobile phone, where you can get records to prove if a phone was in use," she explains.

"Many prosecutions for smoking with a child in the car will be dependent on the officer's evidence of what they saw.

"Challenging this may be a struggle if you genuinely were not smoking."

Child car smoking debate welcomed

Whatever the outcome of Labour's proposal, the debate they have started is likely to have some benefits.

This week's media coverage of smoking while driving will surely cause some parents to reconsider their habit of lighting up while at the wheel.

Lawmakers in Wales agree that education is a preferable solution to legislation.

The principality has been running a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke in vehicles since 2012.

When it ends in March, it will be assessed to see if stricter measures are needed.

If the scheme has been successful, then perhaps this would be a better initial strategy in the rest of the UK.

What do you think?

Should smoking in cars carrying children be banned?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris

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