Banning smoking in cars when children are present: what do you think?

Jim HumeNorth of the Border, the war on smoking continues. Today, larger shops are no longer allowed to display cigarettes. Now, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP and health spokesperson Jim Hume is introducing a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament which will ban smoking in cars where children are present. His proposal will be put out to public consultation from 28th May. Talking about his plan over the weekend, he said:

The tobacco display ban is another welcome step in changing Scotland’s relationship with smoking which began with the ban in smoking in public places. But more can be done in our journey towards a healthier Scotland.

Passive smoking is entirely avoidable and a private vehicle is one of the few places a child can still be legally exposed to tobacco smoke. That is why I am seeking a change in the law to safeguard the rights of children in Scotland and to give them a better start in life. My consultation to ban smoking tobacco in vehicles while children are present will be launched on the 28th of May.

I stand alongside the British Heart Foundation, British Lung Foundation, Children in Scotland and ASH Scotland, amongst many others, in seeking a change to the law and hope that people and organisations from across Scotland can take part in this important consultation.

It doesn’t seem fair that any child should have to be trapped in a car which is filled with smoke. When you consider the real implications this can have for a child’s immediate and future health, it is clear we need to do what we can to protect children and give them the best start in life.

I have written several times about this issue over the year. In 2011, when Labour came up with this proposal, I said:

I think that the smoking ban introduced in 2006 by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition is one of the best pieces of legislation ever, because it strikes the right balance between freedom to smoke, and freedom to breathe air free from the poisons in cigarette smoke.   That covers public space, though. What about private space?  If we ban smoking in cars, surely there’s an argument to ban it in houses? And alcohol is harmful too – we know about the effects of growing up with parents who abuse alcohol. Do we ban drinking in a house where there are under 18s? What about obesity? Do we give the state the right to go through people’s food cupboards and fine per chocolate bar or crisp packet because obesity is such a problem and is going to cost us a fortune in the future?  If the issue is with the proven risks of cigarette smoke in a very confined space, you don’t get much more confined than a womb. Do we ban smoking in pregnancy? Even if we thought that was a good idea, which I don’t, how on earth do you enforce that?

My view hasn’t changed since then and in fact I spoke to someone last week who said that a conviction of this nature might well end up with parents being automatically investigated by social services which might stretch already insufficient resources even further.

Having said all of that, I have a great deal of sympathy with the arguments in favour of such a measure and I do think that smoking around children at all is horribly inconsiderate and takes unacceptable risks with their future health. This is one of those issues where you can make a liberal argument from either perspective.

It is undoubtedly a good thing that this is being debated. At least some of the risks and dangers of the practice will be discussed openly and may encourage people to change their behaviour.  I wondered what LDV readers thought of the idea. Let us know in the comments below.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • If politicians haven’t got anything more important to do, perhaps we should be asking what those politicans are for?

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Apr '13 - 12:07pm

    Banning parents from smoking in cars when children are present is over the top. I favour education on this matter but if it is banned, where will it end?

  • Children are at particular risk from passive smoking, of course they should be protected.

  • Charles Beaumont 29th Apr '13 - 1:25pm

    It’s close to unenforceable. The people who will break this law are the kind of people who don’t care if their kids are exposed to passive smoke. Unless you’re in slow moving urban traffic hard to see how anyone would get caught.

  • Geoffrey Payne 29th Apr '13 - 1:25pm

    I think it is a good idea. Children do not get any choice in the meter and a car is a very confined space. Smoking in a car with children violates JS Mills principle of harm to others.
    Passing a law won’t stop this but it will reduce it. Smoking bans enforced by law have been very successful in the UK and for non-smokers such as myself having given us more freedom to go to places without having to put up with the horrible smell and harmful health effects.

  • Geoffrey Payne 29th Apr '13 - 1:26pm

    That should say matter, not meter!

  • I think, tbh, that rules and regulations on smoking have gone as far as they need to. Taxes on smoking more than pay for fixing all the damage they do, and there cannot be anyone alive who doesn’t know the great harm they do. I think it’s time to say that the restrictions are as stringent as they need to be and just leave them.

    Why do we not seem care about alcohol and fatty foods? An alcohol-abusing parent can do more damage to a child than an occasional bit of passive smoking, just as a parent who gives their child crap to eat can do it much more harm too.

  • “Why do we not seem care about alcohol and fatty foods? An alcohol-abusing parent can do more damage to a child than an occasional bit of passive smoking, just as a parent who gives their child crap to eat can do it much more harm too”

  • Completely disagree with this. Like Mark Wright, I’m shamed that its us that is proposing it.

  • * ashamed

  • Simon McGrath 29th Apr '13 - 10:46pm

    What on earth is wrong with the Scottish Lib Dems. This on top of wanting to make poor people pay more for having a drink.

  • It’s a good idea. Children should be protected from neglectful parents in this case. The damage smoking causes is permanent and the children do not have a choice. It’s got nothing to do with a war on drugs or anything like that. it’s protecting adults from shoving toxins into a child’s mouth.

    The evidence for young children is even more compelling. There’s a direct correlation between how often a parent smokes and the chances of SSID. Even a smoker who wears the clothing they wore while smoking who then comes into contact with a child increases the risk of early death. This won’t ban smoking, just people smoking in the presence of children. People who smoke in cars with children are effectively being abusive parents or thoughtless at best.

  • Drinking alcohol in the presence of children is not always harmful. It depends on context, age , who else is present , how much you drink etc. You can be prosecuted or have social services involvement if you put a child in danger because of your drug or alcohol use if it affects the child. Smoking in a car with a child ALWAYS affects the child. It’s an open and shut case.

  • Richard Wingfield 29th Apr '13 - 11:41pm

    I believe that the rights of the child not to be harmed far, far outweigh any rights of adults to smoke. The effects of second hand smoke are well-documented, particularly in relation to children. Difficulty in enforcing the law is no justification for inaction in relation to this problem. It is equally difficult to police the use of mobile phones in cars and people who don’t wear setbelts, yet part of the purpose of the law here is to deter people from such actions. A small number of prosecutions may well be sufficient to discourage large numbers of people from smoking in cars when children are present, and the harm they suffer reduced. That can only be a good thing.

    I cannot think of a single other situation whereby we would accept and tolerate an adult forcing toxins and other dangerous chemicals into a child’s lungs, which is what happens when adults smoke in cars with children. The fact that the adult derives pleasure from the activity is, in my mind, entirely irrelevant. I would support a ban and, more so, would view it as entirely consistent with Mill’s principle of liberalism. Here, a vulnerable person’s freedom is being infringed by another and so the state is justified in limiting that other person’s freedoms.

    Stuart, I would also hope that if a parent is abusing alcohol, or feeding a child so unhealthily that their health is put at risk, that the state would intervene in those situations as well.

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Apr '13 - 11:44pm

    The MSP is reported as saying : “….more can be done in our journey towards a healthier Scotland.” but it says Strong Liberal Voice on the podium JIm Hume is standing behind. Surely liberals believe that a healthy lifestyle is a choice for the individual not the state. Scottish liberalism seems to be in a very confused place.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Apr '13 - 12:51am

    I was instinctively against this but then I felt sorry for the children. I think the big questions are: what will the level of personal invasion be? How much will it cost and how will it be paid for? I will reserve my opinion until I see proper plans.

    I would also like to add to Stephen Donnelly, respectfully, that the Liberal Democrats are not the old Liberal Party. You talk about liberals and Scottish liberalism but our party also has a social democrat heritage. Too many people in the party seem to think we can do away with our social democratic heritage and turn into a purely ideologically narrow liberal party. Again, I say this with respect.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Apr '13 - 12:54am

    I would also add my criticism to message on the podium that says “Strong Liberal Voices”. It should be strong Liberal Democrat voices, if anything at all.

  • Richard – there are not ‘large numbers of people (to discourage) from smoking in cars when children are present’. The vast majority of people do not and would not. You do not need to legislate for common sense.

    How would ‘children’ be defined anyway? There is a huge difference between a baby/toddler and a teenager.

    By all means educate people, but a ban is completely unworkable and a disproportionate response to a problem that isn’t really there.

  • Personally I wish smoking would die out altogether. Nothing worse than walking down the street and getting a face full of smoke from someone in front of you. I do not think children should be exposed to cigarette smoke, especially in enclosed areas like cars – not like they have the choice to leave or anything is it?

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Apr '13 - 12:15pm

    Mark, how are people who “claim” to be thinking of the children (as if we aren’t really) losing their perspective and grip on reality? Or whatever you mean. Did you think the same about the indoor smoking ban in public places?

    You say the health effects are miniscule, but how do you know? The effects on a new born baby might be quite significant. As someone said, the seatbelt ban didn’t lead to an invasion of privacy.

    Extreme intolerant “liberals” need to calm down a bit and not overreact to every new law.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Apr '13 - 1:10pm

    Smoking is known to increase the risk of cot death, but yet it is “fundamentally illiberal” to protect someone defenceless from this. I still don’t know if the policy is workable, but I don’t think it is madness to consider it.

  • Helen Dudden 4th May '13 - 9:25am

    Smoking causes cancer. The laws in this country are clearer. Passive smoking is as dangerous as smoking itself ad it does pass on the message it is OK to smoke.

    Jim Hume keep going, we need more like you, with self belief.

  • Joseph Donnelly 7th May '13 - 12:49pm

    @Helen Dudden

    It is OK to smoke…I dont see your point, as liberals surely we accept that people can make choices that have negative health consequences?

    I play Rugby, in many ways thats a pretty dangerous sport, is it not OK?

    I’m all for stopping the effects of smoking on children and providing support to enable those to escape addiction if they want to but fundamentally it is OK to choose to smoke.

  • I fully support the proposal. Forcing children to inhale smoke in a confined space such as a car is child cruelty, should be enforceable under existing legislation but since it isn’t we should make it explicit.

  • Lynn Holgate 6th Oct '15 - 7:41pm

    Passive smoking . Does damage children’s health and when confined to cars are more so.. Only smokers would be against it. My parents both smoked 60 a day. Hated being in the car when I was young.. My sibling and I have asthma and hay fever issue the only thing that can be pinpointed to the cause was heavy smokers…

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