Yesterday evening, during a debate on the Children and Families Bill,1, a proposed group of amendments from the House of Lords2 was voted on in the Commons. The amendments were passed with a substantial majority (Ayes 376, Noes 107).3 Amongst these was amendment 41, which allows for the provision of ‘a private vehicle to be smoke-free where a person under the age of 18 is present in the vehicle’ - or, in laymans’ terms, a ban on smoking in cars when children are present.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that I am all in favour of this measure - in fact I support a total ban on smoking as rigorous as that as Singapore’s ban on chewing gum.4 However, I think that such a ban is unlikely to occur any time soon, primarily for the financial reasons outlined in a previous post.5

One of the arguments against the ban was centred around the difficulties of enforcement. However, I do not think this is a sensible reason to oppose legislation, at least not on its own. If something should be banned, it makes sense to do so and consider enforcement as a separate issue - banning is the principle, enforcement is the application. Furthermore, the current smoking ban is not enforced as rigorously as it could be - every time I visit Bolton Bus Station I see people smoking, potentially putting the station managers in breach of the law6 - but I haven’t heard anyone calling for the Health Act to repealed as a result.

Another opposing argument is that the ban is encroaching on civil liberties by invading the personal space of drivers. However this is no different to banning the use of mobile phones in cars, or requiring people to wear seatbelts, and is based on evidence around safety. Admittedly the effects of second-hand smoke are a medium-term health risk, as opposed to the immediate danger of a distracted driver receiving a phone call or a passenger being flung from their seat in a crash, but that is no reason to avoid taking action.

Whilst enforcement may be difficult, I think this legislation will work in a similar way to the ban on using mobile phones whilst driving - i.e. it sends a clear message that society as a whole does not approve of smoking in cars with children present. Whilst social pressure can take longer to work than criminal sanctions, in the long run I expect smoking to be gradually made unsociable to the point that a total ban to finish off the habit for good becomes politically viable (i.e. once smokers form less than say 10% of the adult population).

Further reading