Nick Clegg opposes banning smoking in cars with children present

Speaking on Call Clegg this morning, Nick Clegg said that he personally wan’t in favour of changing the law to ban smoking in cars where children are present. The question came about as a consequence of a vote in the Lords last night. MPs will now be given a free vote on whether to incorporate it into the Children and Families Bill.

Nick made it clear that he would be voting against:

Of course it’s a stupid thing to do to smoke when a child is in the back of a car but you don’t always have to have a law to fix things you don’t like.

He added that he came into politics to give kids the best start in life but that people can’t sub-contract responsible parenting to the state.

His argument was very similar to the one I made writing in this month’s Ad Lib (to which you can subscribe here):

I’m glad that Roger and Jim Hume,in Scotland  have started a public debate about this. It’s really important that people should be aware of the harm that exposing children to the deeply unpleasant cocktail of poisons and carcinogens present in cigarette smoke can do. A ban could set an unhelpful precedent about the state’s right to intrude into private space, though.

If we ban smoking in cars, surely there’s an argument to ban it in houses? You don’t get much more confined than a womb. Do we bansmoking in pregnancy? Even if we thought that was a good idea, which I don’t, how on earth do you enforce that?

Alcohol is harmful too. Do we ban drinking in a house where there are under 18s? Obesity’s a problem. Do we give the state the right to go through people’s food cupboards and fine per chocolate bar or crisp packet?

There’s all sorts of things parents do which can adversely affect their child’s health. That’s why poet Philip Larkin famously said “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.”  Evidence suggests that the regime orientated parenting methods such as leaving babies to cry can harm their future mental wellbeing.   Do we ban these methods in the hope of improving mental health?  Imagine the outcry if we tried.

Surely it would be more helpful is to make our culture more child friendly.  We don’t seem to like kids– we ghettoise them, confine them to soft play areas so that adults can get on with their own socialising. Maybe we should be thinking about how we can best integrate them into our lives and accept and enjoy them in every environment. Then it might not be so easy to dismiss the effects on them of lighting up in a small metal box.

Roger Williams MP and Jim Hume MSP are both taking action in their respective parliaments to support a ban. Today Jim published his consultation responses. I was a little distraught to find that mine was not included, but then discovered that the Scottish Parliament email system had rejected it as spam and I hadn’t noticed.

Anyway, he has confirmed his intention to take his bill to the next stage now. He needs to persuade a further 17 MSPs to back the measure before he can introduce it in Parliament. He said today:

Many of the charities, individuals and health professionals who have backed my proposals recognise that this is about giving children the best start in life. It doesn’t seem fair that a child should be cooped up in a smoke-filled car during the school run. Those children cannot change their means of transport, let alone take steps to immediately remove themselves from the uncomfortable confines of a smoke-filled car.

On this important matter, Scotland’s children should be afforded the same protection as those in areas of Australia, Canada and the United States of America. Children in Scotland should have the freedom to go on and lead healthy lives if they choose to. And that starts with removing barriers such as smoke-filled cars.

I’ve said before that this is one of these issues where it is perfectly possible to reach either conclusion from liberal principles. If nothing else, the debate itself might just raise awareness of the dangers of exposing children to toxins in this way.

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

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  • Tony Greaves 30th Jan '14 - 2:43pm

    Why should smoking in cars not be banned full stop?

    If there is another person there it is dangerous. If the driver is on his own he would be safer not fiddling about with cigarettes or a pipe.


  • It’s one of those tough calls really and I wouldn’t criticise anyone whatever they voted because of that.

    On the one hand you are restricting the personal freedom of someone to smoke but on the other there is a child who is potentially put at risk. I think I would personally edge towards the rights of the child whilst wishing that the minority of parent who do smoke in children’s presence were more responsible…

  • For a true Liberal it is only possible to reach one conclusion on matters of public health . If the medical evidence is all one way as it is with secondhand smoke, sensible and principled Liberals will vote for pubic health and the protection of children where there is very clear advice from the medical profession .
    Just read JS Mill or if you cannot be bothered just remember the bit about your freedom not harming the freedom of others, especially the freedom of children who depend on you.

    Those who say this is unnecessary state intervention should ask themselves if they are happy to let their children eat food that the state marks as unfit for human consumption. They should ask themselves if they would be happy for the state to stop intervening to ensure that the electrical equipment they buy to use in their house, to be used by their children, is safe. They should ask themselves if the state should stop intervening to make sure that the water that their children drink is safe.

    The list of state interventions to protect the children in Nick Clegg’s home is a very long list and I do not believe he wants to scrap all these protections and let his children run the risk of early and painful deaths by removing those protections . So why does he make an exception for cigarette smoke? He knows that cigarette smoke is deadly especially to children. He has probably seen the evidence from expert paediatricians. So why does he reject the evidence? Why does he want to risk the health of his own children and the children of everyone else? If he or anyone else thinks this is Liberalism they need to think again. In the nineteenth century Liberal Governments were famous for their investment in public health measures, they made huge investments in clean water and proper sewage systems. People need to remember what a proud record Liberals have on public health and not fall into superficial rightwing small state rhetoric. This issue is too important.

  • @John Tilley

    Agree with what you say otherwise.
    My husband was brought up in a house where two parents smoked and nearly died of a chest infection when a young child.

    It’s sickening to see the notion of liberality banded about when the health and wellbeing of children is at risk.
    The party is already pushing women voters away, with it’s enabling cuts, hacking benefits, and the ongoing scandals.
    Seen to be not willing to protect children, another mistake by the party.

  • Alex Baldwin 30th Jan '14 - 8:15pm

    @John Tilley
    I’m afraid your analogies (of which the below is typical) are not pertinent:
    “They should ask themselves if the state should stop intervening to make sure that the water that their children drink is safe.”

    The state does not currently intervene to make sure children are drinking safe water (I occasionally drank rainwater and wellwater when I was playing around as a kid, perhaps unwisely, but there was no law against it). The state intervenes to check that the water supply (which people trust) is safe.

    Fast food has adverse health effects. If these were due to hamburgers being contaminated by poisons then I think most people would want the government to get involved. The reality (I hope) though is that some food is bad for you, and when you eat it you have to make a risk/reward decision as to whether you are willing to accept that. In the case of children, we usually leave those sorts of judgements up to their parents.

    In the case of smoking I do think that seeing as there is no obvious “reward” to letting a kid be exposed to cigarette smoke then a rational parent would avoid it, but just as much as I wouldn’t outlaw giving kids fast food or letting them play contact sports I don’t see a ban being the answer here. It seems that education would be far more effective.

  • Alex Baldwin 30th Jan ’14 – 8:15pm
    In the case of smoking I do think that seeing as there is no obvious “reward” to letting a kid be exposed to cigarette smoke then a rational parent would avoid it,

    But Alex, I am also concerned about the children of parents who are not rational. I am concerned about the children of feckless and stupid parents. Why should those children suffer because of the stupidly or inadequacy of their parents ? That is why I am a Liberal and not a Tory.
    I believe there is such a thing as society. I do not think the children of irresponsible parents should be ignored and left to suffer and die. I am hoping you will agree on that point.

  • John Tilley I agree with every word you said on this issue.

    As for being a ‘flouted law’, once something is law it soon becomes the accepted norm. People used to squeal about the prospect of not being able to smoke in public places and now it’s just a part of life and we all benefit from clean air in our pubs, restaurants etc.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Jan '14 - 9:54pm

    This is a very different comments thread to the last time I wrote about this issue. Perhaps proves my point about being able to reach either side from a liberal perspective. John, there is so much evidence that sleep training is harmful. Do we ban it? Do we have state rummaging through our food cupboards?

  • The Times’ leader on this issue struck the right balance for me with their support for the law. Normally I find myself in broad agreement with Nick, but on this issue I do find myself wanting a law that puts the right of the child, who practically has no say in the matter of whether their parent is smoking the car, to breathe clean air before other considerations. when the child has little choice, or perhaps understanding of the health issues, then I think it is right for the state to act in their consideration.

    Caron is right to raise the problems regarding alcohol and food , they are of course releated issues and I have a lot of sympathy with her position, but I don’t see how we could ever come up with legislation to deal with those issues – but I don’t see why that negates legistlating in a situation where some sort of practical law can be obtained that does protect children. Condradictions in my position, perhaps – but how can we ever be Liberals without one or two contradications in our beliefs 🙂

    I don’t see that as the nanny state or sub-contracting parenting but, as others have said, a strong signal of what is acceptable. It is hard to police seatbelts but we now accept it as part of regular life and don’t even think about having to wear them. But whether the law comes to pass or not Caron is very right when she says the debate will raise awareness of the issue and that is a good thing.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '14 - 10:25pm

    Here and in another thread ( you indicate that the state should not intervene to prevent parents from smoking in cars when children are present. But elsewhere ( you want the state to intervene to ban smacking.
    How can smacking a child be unacceptable but poisoning them be fine?

  • @JohnTilley “For a true Liberal it is only possible to reach one conclusion on matters of public health . If the medical evidence is all one way”

    Are we looking at the right evidence and are we reading it correctly?
    Whilst passive smoking has an effect (and I sympathize with those who regard smoking whilst pregnant as being tantamount to child abuse, since the negative effects on the mental development of the unborn child have been known since at least the mid 90’s), the question must be whether it is the most significant factor affecting both the health of our (ie. UK society’s) children and their future health care needs?

    I suggest, based on the evidence from the University of South Australia’s research into cardiovascular fitness in children, it is not. In fact the research is troubling because of the long-term work and health implications of a poorly developed cardiovascular system, both on the life of the individual and on their health care needs.

    So we have a simple choice, yes, we can do the “nanny state thing” and ban smoking in cars that will achieve what exactly (in terms of public health outcomes)? Or given that we are bringing back free school meals and re-emphasizing the importance of diet, the more efficacious intervention would seem to be to increase the amount of physical activity ALL children are required to do in the context of school.

  • What about the adverse effects of a ban? Perhaps there will be accidents caused by frustrated smokers rushing to complete a school run so that they can grab their next nicotine infusion after dropping off the children. Nicotine-deprived drivers on longer jouneys will be more irritable and aggressive, again putting their smoke-free passengers at risk of injury.

    Supporters of a ban always conjure the image of ‘smoke-filled cars’ but most sensible parents who smoke in the same car as their children will minimize their smoking and do their best to direct the smoke out of an open window when they do light up.

    I’m not sure whether I’m more disturbed by the nanny state infantilisation of parents or by the demonisation of smokers. Neither position seems especially liberal to me.

  • Smoking in a car with a child is a thoroughly irresponsible, selfish and uncaring thing to do, notwithstanding that the overall ‘science’ on secondhand smoke is extremely flaky; see most recently).

    However, if a law against it can’t and won’t be enforced – and it certainly won’t; the “stupid and feckless” parents (woah! who let their patronising, patrician, de-haut-en-bas mask slip there!) will continue to flout the law even if they know about it and I THINK the police have one or two better things to do – then it’s a bad law, it shouldn’t be passed and alternative ways of achieving the same end should be sought. Politicians shouldn’t pass laws just to get noisy doctors off their backs and to feel a warm glow of smug satisfaction when they have actually effectively achieved nothing.

    This stinks of “Something must be done: this is something: do it”

  • David

    notwithstanding that the overall ‘science’ on secondhand smoke is extremely flaky; see most recently

    Concerns with second hand smoke are more to do with asthma and other respiratory disease than cancer. The evidence for a link to these is overwhelming.

  • “sensible and principled Liberals will vote for pubic health”

    I’d be seriously concerned if drivers were indulging in activities which threatened their pubic health.

  • “but most sensible parents who smoke in the same car as their children will minimize their smoking and do their best to direct the smoke out of an open window when they do light up.”

    The problem is there’s plenty of not very sensible parents out there. I do a lot of miles often stuck in traffic and see it quite a lot. These are the sort of parents who would keep the windows up in the cold when smoking..

    I know the law would be almost unenforceable and some people would still flout it (especially the parents I mentioned above), but having the law would help make it even more socially unacceptable to do it. I imagine the same arguments were used when the seatbelt laws were proposed back in the day.

    I don’t agree with Nick on this one , children have a right to breathe clean air and cigarette smoke in the confined space of a car is much worse than in a larger room.

  • Peter Watson 31st Jan '14 - 2:16pm

    “children have a right to breathe clean air and cigarette smoke in the confined space of a car is much worse than in a larger room.”
    Especially when they can choose to walk out of a room.

  • Yet again I find myself in disagreement with Clegg!

  • Various statements in this thread on evidence. It is a well known tactic of Big Tobacco to try to muddy scientific and medical evidence so as to divert the debate. The evidence to ban smoking in cars comes from the WHO, the BMA and The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. For example ; —

    Wednesday 16th November 2011
    Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – Statement responding to the BMA calling for a smoking ban
    Professor Terence Stephenson, President of the RCPCH said:
    “For some time now, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has strongly led on the call to ban smoking in cars where children are passengers.
    Children cannot choose whether they travel in a smoke filled car and therefore need to be protected. We should be making cars totally smoke-free if there are children travelling in them. Research from the University of Aberdeen has shown that smoking in a car exposes children to a level of toxins that you would expect in a busy ‘smoke filled pub’. There is clear evidence that passive smoking has been found to be linked to chest infections, asthma and ear problems in children and sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death.
    We strongly support today’s BMA recommendations and repeat the call for the government to address this problem in order to protect the health of children and young people.”

  • Nick is wrong. Its basically a mild form of child abuse to smoke in a confined space like a car with a child who has no choice in the matter. Some people are so dumb and selfish that only the threat of a fine can protect the rest of us from them. A childs right to breathe clean air trumps the adult’s right to smoke.

  • Smoking should be banned wherever there are children present. They have no choice but to breathe it, an adult can walk away. Nick has made a bad mistake on this topic. I do not know what has happened to him recently. Has he been hypnotised? The idea of withdrawing British citizenship seems wrong too, on another thread.

    Does he want to return to smoking in pubs? At least in pubs it is mostly adults present, and they choose to go there.

    As a non-smoker I do feel much more comfortable in pubs now that they are smoke free. However, why should they not be permitted to have an allocated smoking room, with non smoking elsewhere? There may need to be specific requirements for an extractor fan so that the smoke would be extracted to outside.

  • Of course smoking in cars with children should be banned. Indeed it should be prosecuted under the existing law against child cruelty.

    Here in London the ban would be easy to enforce. If a police officer at a junction sees a driver or passenger smoking in a car with a child, he or she can stop the vehicle and charge the offender. It would make a change from lying in wait for cyclists.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Feb '14 - 9:12pm

    @Peter Watson Banning smacking is about giving children the same protection under the law as adults.

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '14 - 9:21pm

    @Caron Lindsay “Banning smacking is about giving children the same protection under the law as adults.”
    But you wrote, “For me, it’s quite simple. I don’t think it is ever, ever justified to hit a child.”
    So again I have to ask how then can it be justified to poison a child?

  • Banning smacking is about giving children the same protection under the law as adults

    But children are not adults, and are treated differently under the law in any number of ways (for instance, confining an adult to their room for an evening, or not allowing them to leave the house at the weekend, would be false imprisonment, but it’s fine to do it to a child).

    If laws were made on the general principle that children were to be treated the same as adults and any deviation from that had to be justified, then you could use ‘I’m just asking for children to be given the same protection as adults’ as an argument. But it’s not — quite the opposite, in fact, the general presumption is that children and adults are different and ought to be treated differently (for example, children under ten cannot be guilty of crimes at all: quite different to adults!)

    So if you want children to be treated the same as adults in one specific area, the onus is on you to say why that area is should be different to the usual rule that the law treats children and adults differently.

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