By Sarah Tawton
A ban on smoking in cars when children are passengers now looks set to become law after MPs gave it their backing.
Tory and Lib Dem MPs joined forces with their Labour colleagues to approve an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, giving Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt the power to impose a ban in England.
Medical experts welcomed the vote, saying it is an important step forward in efforts to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco.
The British Lung Foundation estimates that each week, more than 430,000 youngsters between the ages of 11 and 15 are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars in England.
According to a study published by the charity last year, around 185,000 children in this age group are exposed to second-hand smoke in their family cars on "most days", if not every day.
Chief executive Dr Penny Woods said: "Having campaigned on this issue for many years, we're absolutely delighted that MPs have backed the ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
"This could prove a great leap forward for the health of our nation's children.
"The introduction of a law that would help prevent hundreds of thousands of children from being exposed to second-hand smoke in the car is now within reach.
"With both Houses of Parliament having made their support clear, the onus is now on the government to act accordingly and make this crucial child protection measure at the earliest opportunity."
Step forward in reducing tobacco harm
The British Medical Association, which has been campaigning for a ban on smoking in cars with children since 2011, said the vote was an "important step forward in reducing tobacco harm".
Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of health charity Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) hailed the vote as "an historic victory for Parliament and for children's health".
MPs were given a free vote on the issue, meaning they were not tied to a party line. They approved the ban by 376 votes to 107, a majority of 269.
Prime Minister David Cameron missed the vote as he was away visiting flood-hit areas in the South West.
The PM's official spokesman declined to say which way he would have voted but told a Westminster media briefing:
"While he understands the concerns that some have expressed, his view is that the time for this kind of approach has come."
Supporters of the ban
Cabinet ministers who supported the ban include Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor George Osborne, Chief Secretary Danny Alexander and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
Education Secretary Michael Gove, International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Energy Secretary Ed Davey were also in favour.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg missed the vote but has previously spoken out against attempts to "sub-contract responsible parenting to the state".
Opponents of the ban included Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who said such a move would be unenforceable.
Home Secretary Theresa May, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers were also against the ban.