Drivers who smoke with children in the car would be fined £50, under plans being prepared by ministers. The plan aims to protect kids from second hand smoke by creating a new criminal offence – with police empowered to issue Fixed Penalty Notices to offending drivers.
The plan, backed by ministers including the PM, has pleased health campaigners but queries over the drain on police resources the plan represents have already been raised.
Professor Sheila Hollins of the British Medical Association described the plan as an ‘important step’, whilst pro-smoking group Forest called the ban a ‘gross intrusion on people’s privacy’
The proposed legislation, published yesterday, would place the onus on the driver to prevent smoking in a private vehicle with someone under 18 present – with the driver committing an offence if another passenger lights up. Police would be able to stop a car to make a ‘reasonable assessment’ of the situation in the car, if they believe an offence is taking place.
Non-payment of a Fixed Penalty could result in charges – representing the most serious crackdown on smoking since the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, which came into effect in July 2007.
If passed, England would join Cyprus, South Africa, Australia and some US states in instituting such a prohibition.
Polls show widespread support for a ban, but enforcement in the limited case outlined in the legislation is likely to be difficult. Some are calling for the government to go further – an outright ban on smoking in cars.
The RAC’s Pete Williams said “While it is undoubtedly the right thing to do in principle in terms of children’s health, it may be overly optimistic to think it will be enforced on a widespread basis.”
The minister with responsibility for the area, Jane Ellison said: ‘Second-hand smoke is a real threat to children’s health … The only effective way to protect children is to prevent them breathing second-hand smoke and our plans to stop smoking in cars carrying children will help us to do this’.
The bill is expected to face little difficulty being passed into the statute book – but would only apply to England, as smoking legislation is devolved. Scotland and Wales are both in consultation on a similar ban.