Baroness Claire Tyler writes: Why banning smoking in cars with children in can and should be enforced

I read with great interest Caron’s very balanced blog entry on Thursday about banning smoking in cars with children and the varied comments that followed. These showed a quite legitimate difference of opinion about how to apply liberal principles in an such an area , as illustrated when Nick Clegg shared his own personal views on Thursday’s Call Clegg.

Much of the ensuing media and blog debate -including on Lib Dem Voice -has focussed on whether it’s right to legislate about what people do in private cars and whether this isn’t too great an intrusion by the “nanny state” into the private realm. Whilst some of the debate in the Lords this week addressed that point, much of it was to do with whether such a ban would be enforceable. Indeed the Government argued against it – and then lost the vote – not so much on the grounds of the desirability of such a ban but on its workability.

For some months I have been working with a group of cross party backbench peers in the Lords and a coalition of charities on all this. We tabled amendments in the Children and Families Bill to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products and to ban smoking in cars when children are present. We were absolutely delighted when – in response to our cross party amendment which received widespread support across the House at Committee Stage – the Government changed its position and at Report Stage tabled its own amendment introducing enabling legislation for standardised packaging, following an independent review of the evidence base by Sir Cyril Chantler.

I recently had the privilege of meeting with Nicola Roxon, the former Australian Minister for Health who was instrumental in the implementation of standardised packaging in Australia. She explained the beneficial impact that standardised packaging was having in no longer portraying smoking to young people as cool, glamorous and a “must have” accessory, but a much less desirable- and truthful – image. This is already starting to reduce take up, critically as part of a wider tobacco control strategy.

That’s why I’m pleased that the Government is now introducing at Third Reading this Wednesday new amendments on proxy purchasing and requiring an age of sale of 18 for e-cigarettes. We’ve got the makings of a really good tobacco control package here, but a ban on smoking in cars with children would strenghten that strategy .

Banning smoking in cars with children is above all a child protection measure – a noble liberal ideal – and the very reason we were debating it as part of the Children and Families Bill.

As a nation we have come to recognise the harm that passive smoking can do, and we have made laudable strides in tackling its effects, banning smoking in public spaces, on public transport and in work vehicles.

There is one glaring omission though – every day, children across England are exposed to dangerously high levels of smoke when travelling in the family car – more than 430,000 children every week according to the British Lung Foundation. It seems an unjust anomaly, especially as those we are excluding from protection are among the most vulnerable in society, those who may be too young to understand the risks of passive smoking, or feel unable to ask the adult they’re travelling with to stop.

In the debates so far we often hear people talking about the so called “rights of smokers” – but who is speaking up for the rights of the child? Yes every parent can smoke if they want to, but surely every child should have the right to be in a safe environment.

Being exposed to smoking in the car is different to being exposed in the home; the space is more confined and children cannot move away from the smoke which is far more concentrated and therefore toxic than in the home. Children often have little or no control over the smoking behaviour or adults around them.. The health statistics also speak for themselves – 165,000 new cases of disease among children each year (such as asthma, bronchitis and reduced lung function) as a direct result of being exposed to second-hand smoke.

What parent would want to expose their child to such a toxic atmosphere with long term adverse effects on their health? The answer is of course very few. There is huge public support for this ban. A recent survey found that 80% of the public support this ban and 86% of children.

On enforcement the police already have a number of duties relating to private vehicles, including the need to monitor the wearing of seatbelts, the intoxication levels of the driver, the use of mobile phones and the use of child safety seats and restraints. It’s worth noting that the latter – another child protection measure, is being enforced relatively successfully.

In Australia, seven out of eight states have adopted legislation banning smoking in cars when children are present. Queensland, Southern Australia and Western Australia use a combination of police and tobacco control officers to enforce the law, which is carried out alongside existing vehicle monitoring duties and hence doesn’t create an additional drain on police resources. This could well provide the basis for a feasible model in the UK. In short where there’s a political will, there’s a way.

Others have argued that we should rely on public education campaigns rather than legislation. But as was demonstrated with seatbelt-wearing, efforts to inform and change behaviour are far more effective when backed by legislation. Indeed seat-belt wearing rages increased in the UK from 25% to an amazing 91% after legislation was introduced alongside public awareness campaigns.

I’m glad that MPs will be given a free vote when this comes back to the Commons and hope that they send a message, loud and clear, that it is not acceptable to expose your children to second-hand smoke in the car. And I hope Nick changes his mind too.

* Claire Tyler, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, has been in the House of Lords since 2011, taking an active role in the areas of health and social care, welfare reform, social mobility, well-being, children and family policy, machinery of government and the voluntary sector. She is the Liberal Democrat member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, and co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility

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17 Comments

  • It’s not that it’s totally unenforceable that’s the issue, though, is it? It’s that (like all other while-driving offences) it would be SELECTIVELY enforced against people the police pull over on sus, because the police physically cannot pull everybody over so they pick out those they wish to discriminate against.

    It’d be just another stick with which to beat people who get pulled over for driving while black, or driving while having oddly-coloured hair, or driving while being male and having long hair (my partner gets pulled over for this a LOT, and always gets asked to present driving licence within 7 days at local station even when, as is usual, they can’t find anything to actually charge him with).

    I can see arguments both sides on the principle of this, but for purely pragmatic reasons I am against it.

  • Adam Corlett 3rd Feb '14 - 2:25pm

    Would the ban also apply to e-cigarettes? If so, why??? If not, would that not be an obstacle to enforcement?

  • Callum Leslie 3rd Feb '14 - 2:41pm

    I laughed out loud at the justification that, because the law on children wearing seat belts is well enforced, the law against smoking in cars with children can be too. Nothing at all to do with the completely different intent and beliefs of the parent driving the car! I don’t think any parent thinks a children going without a safety belt is a good idea. How many people have actually been penalised for not doing this in the last year? I suspect nowhere near as many as you would look to penalise for smoking.

  • “The health statistics also speak for themselves – 165,000 new cases of disease among children each year (such as asthma, bronchitis and reduced lung function) as a direct result of being exposed to second-hand smoke.”

    And how much of this is attributable to SHS exposure uniquely in the car, as opposed to the (much longer period spent in) home? Answer: none. So, please, Lady Tyler: reassure us that you do not have and never will have any intention of legislating against smoking in the home? Your reassurance is awaited.

  • Cllr Mark: to be fair, I have purple hair and my partner I refer to above (as opposed to any of my other partners – YAY poly) is a man with long hair – I might be biased in the other direction 😉

  • “We’ve got the makings of a really good tobacco control package here, …”

    Perhaps not the best way of presenting things to a liberal audience, though who knows these days?

  • @Jennie – No your not being biased, just pointing out how the police are able to use existing road safety laws.

    Everyday I pass people using their mobile phones whilst driving and given the remarks made by the police concerning the behaviour of passing drivers, whilst they are attending accidents on the motorways, it is obvious that people don’t really respect this law and because they know if you don’t do it in front of a policeman your chances of being caught are practically zero.

    So turning to this new initiate, what effect will it really have? Parents who smoke will still smoke and just drop the cigarette out of sight for passing police cars. Children with parents who smoke in the car will still be exposed to the accumulated residues everytime they get into their car.

    Looking at car ownership. We should remember that the only cars that parents can reasonably smoke in are the one’s they own and for which they have no real desire to resell. Whilst they could smoke in a company car or leased/hire car, in the vast majority of cases they would be in breech of the terms and conditions of usage.

    Looking at enforcement, because of the conditional nature of the ‘offence’ namely: driver smoking with children in car, the only practical way to detect is by a policeman looking into a car at close quarters. Forget about intelligent software processing images from speed camera’s.

    Actually the better campaign would be to address the issue of why do so many parents have to drive their children to school, why can’t the children walk, cycle or take to bus as we did?

    As for the diseases: “such as asthma, bronchitis and reduced lung function”, whilst smoking may aggravate the underlying weakness behind these conditions, it isn’t the only cause of these conditions – so banning smoking in cars may marginally reduce the total number of new cases, but will have no effect whatsoever on all the other cases.
    Whilst a bronchial asthma attack is unpleasant – I can say from personal experience that the best way to mitigate these attacks is is to do activities that strengthen the cardiovascular system. I was diagnosed with asthma at age 5 and since entering secondary school I’ve never taken medication – nor been admitted to hospital because of my condition – My parents, Doctors and teachers just learnt to accept that I wasn’t going to let this condition limit me. Hence why I have consistently said the way forward is the need to improve the cardiovascular fitness of ALL children.

  • So Jennie, we cant have any laws because we cant trust the police to enforce them fairly? What a load of nonsense. If you think police dont do their job properly the amswer is not to abandon lawmaking!

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th Feb '14 - 11:55am

    I think the proposed law change on smoking in cars can be differentiated from all other ‘in-car’ regulation in that smoking in cars is not currently proven to cause or worsen the effect of accidents. If someone is involved in an accident and is proven to have caused the accident due to talking on their phone, it has a bearing on their causing a significant risk to others on the road and implies a greater culpability; so the law was drafted for that purpose. This is not directly analogous to smoking in cars.

  • Claire Tyler 4th Feb '14 - 4:57pm

    Thanks for your support Alistair and Geoffrey and to others for the feedback; as ever we have a diverse range of opinions! To respond to some of the specific points. Adam: The law will not apply to e-cigarettes (unless set out EXPLICITLY in legislation) as they are not smoked and are not cigarettes. David – there is a clear distinction between being exposed to SHS in the home and in a car. The car is a significantly more confined space in which the child is unable to escape from, greatly increasing the level of toxins they are exposed to. And no I don’t think that we should try to stop smoking in homes as that clearly wouldn’t be enforceable. However we are, quite rightly, as a country happy to legislate for other forms of child protection so why is this area different? It’s about saving lives and protecting children –something virtually every parents wants to do. This is backed up by surveys which show that over 80% of the public support this ban including 83% of respondents who smoke. Callum – I don’t agree that this issue is fundamentally different to that of seatbelts. Both are issues of child protection. The risks to children of travelling without a seatbelt have been made clear via legislation and public education. The same applies to smoking in cars with children present. On enforcement generally, I recognise that it needs thinking through carefully and that was well acknowledged in the Lords debate last week, but we are already seeing successful enforcement in other countries, most notably Australia. So if they can do it why can’t we it? Some of the practical points raised on enforcement are of course valid and need working through but a lot of the wider opposition comes from the tobacco industry who have an obvious vested interest in opposing these public health measures. Personally I see nothing illiberal about a package of tobacco control measures as you have in Australia. A key liberal principle propounded by J S Mill – as we were reminded in the earlier post in Lib Dem Voice on this issue – is about the freedom of the individual PROVIDING it doesn’t do harm to others. I think that protecting children from harm is an honourable liberal approach. And finally Mark you are entitled to your views of course as I am to mine but I was rather disappointed that you chose to indulge in stereotyping rather than engaging directly with the child protection and public health arguments .

  • Steve Deller 4th Feb '14 - 6:31pm

    Why not just ban smoking entirely…something every politician in the last half century is guilty of failing to do. Either it is so bad as to warrant a ban or it ‘s not. Everything else is a hypocritical fudge that pretends to support health while raking in billions in government revenue..

  • For decades the cry of Big Tobacco has been that put by Steve Deller 4th Feb ’14 – 6:31pm Tobacco smoking has in fact been banned in one country during the last ten years. Virtually every country in the world has now signed up to the WHO treaty to reduce smoking . So the answer to Steve Deller and Big Tobacco is that governments and politicians all over the world are taking action.
    I am sure he will acknowledge the perfectly reasonable poimt that whilst there are still some millions of addicts in the UK the best way to help them is not to criminalise them. But there are very good arguments for further restricting those who profit from cigarettes and tobacco and the disease and death that their products cause. One out of every two smokers will die from a smoking related disease — so a continuing programme of legislation to help reduce that number is good for smokers is good for the children of smokers and is good for the rest of us. It is only bad for those who have a vested interest in the profits from tobacco sales.

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