Child health: in-car smoking ban comes into force in England and Wales

Baby in Car

Legislation banning smoking in vehicles where a child is present has come into force today - those who break the law could be fined £50 but the move has faced criticism from some who believe it will be difficult to enforce in practice.

The new law also means the driver can be held accountable for the actions of passengers, and applies regardless of whether a window or sunroof has been left open. It follows research carried out by Public Health England and Newcastle University, who found that the levels of dangerous chemicals were more than 100 times higher than what is considered safe. Public Health England says the new law is intended to protect children and young people from secondhand smoke, which can increase the risk of killer diseases including cancer, meningitis, bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as worsening symptoms of asthma.

It is hoped that the change will encourage parents to reconsider what impact their smoking habits may have on the health of their children, and could mean fewer people smoke around their children elsewhere including in the home.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer at Public Health England, says: “This legislation is a landmark in protecting children from secondhand smoke. Smoking just a single cigarette in a vehicle exposes children to high levels of air pollutants and cancer-causing chemicals like arsenic, formaldehyde and tar, and people often wrongly assume that opening a window, or letting in fresh air, will lessen the damage.”

“Extremely challenging”

Concerns have been raised regarding enforcement of the new law, in the face of continuing cuts to police budgets. Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the new law will be “extremely challenging” to enforce. He added: “The reality of the situation is we are struggling to attend burglaries. Should we be focusing on people smoking in cars with children or should we be focusing on burglaries?”

Police forces across the UK have had to adjust to reductions to budgets as a result of the government’s continued austerity cuts, the PFEW says between 2010/11 and 2015/16, reductions in funding to the UK’s 43 forces ranged between 12% and 23%.

The new laws do not apply to e-cigarettes or to those using convertible cars with the roof down.

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