Children in the Car? Then Don't Light Up!

in general 29 July 2016

Image (c) Can Stock Photo

Children in the Car? Then Don't Light Up!

From today smokers in England and Wales risk a £50 fine for lighting up when children are in the car.

It's eight years since smoking indoors in public places became illegal, and the new law is designed to protect those who are under 18 from the harmful effects of passive smoking.

The law will not apply to people who are driving a convertible which has the roof down.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to consider bringing in its own law banning smoking in cars carrying children next year.

Officials in Northern Ireland say they will look at how the ban is working elsewhere before deciding whether or not to follow suit.

More than 430,000 children are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars each week, according to the British Lung Foundation.

At the moment police are likely to warn drivers rather than fine them and intend to take an educational, advisory and non-confrontational approach when enforcing the new legislation. The intention is to give people time to adjust.


But the threat of losing £50 is still present and should be enough to deter most drivers. Although the number of people who still use mobile phones while driving - for talking and texting - does make us wonder how effective the new legislation will be in the short-term at least!

Some facts about passive smoking courtesy of BBC News:

  • Smoke can stay in the air for up to two and a half hours even with a window open
  • Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke has been strongly linked to chest infections, asthma, ear problems and cot death in children
  • Bans on smoking in cars when children are present already exist in some US states, including California, as well as in parts of Canada and Australia
  • Research indicates 300,000 children in the UK visit a GP each year because of the effects of second-hand smoke, with 9,500 going to hospital
  • Smoking in a car creates a higher concentration of toxins than in a bar - some research has put it at 11 times higher
Children travelling is cars where just one person was smoking were found to be exposed to greater concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals than previously believed, according to research carried out in Newcastle.

A driver smoking with the window open created levels of pollution for rear seat passengers that were 100 times higher than recommended safety guidelines.

Again, with thanks to the BBC, this is a history of smoking legislation in the UK:

  • 1965: Government bans cigarette advertising on television
  • 1971: Ministers announce health warnings to be carried on all cigarette packets
  • 1984: Smoking banned on London Tube trains
  • 2002: Legislation passed banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • 2005: Smoking banned on all trains
  • 2006: A ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, comes into effect in Scotland
  • 2007: England, Wales and Northern Ireland introduce their own bans on smoking in public places
  • 2008: Picture health warnings introduced on cigarette packets
  • 2012: Large shops are banned from displaying cigarettes. Smaller shops to follow suit in 2015
  • 2015: MPs vote in favour of banning smoking in cars where children are present
Dr Anil Namdeo of Newcastle University was the lead researcher for the latest study. He said the levels of carcinogens peaked within minutes of the driver lighting up.

"We saw a rapid increase in the levels of these harmful chemicals, fine particles known as PM2.5, not just around the driver but also around the child’s car seat," he said.

"With the window closed the levels peaked at several hundred times the safe limit, but even with the window open we saw a significant rise to well above the safe recommended limits."

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies called the legislation a landmark in protecting children.

"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," she said.

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