Roger Williams MP writes…Protecting children from second-hand smoke

Too many children in the UK are still being regularly exposed to high concentrations of second-hand smoke in cars. This exposure can have detrimental effects on children’s health due to their smaller lungs and less developed immune systems. The Royal College of Physicians published a report collating all available evidence on second-hand smoke to show how it affects children’s health. They found that there were 300,000 GP visits by children every year, there were 165,000 new episodes of disease and 9,500 admissions to hospital every year in the UK because of passive smoke.

In 2007, legislation to ban smoking in public places and work vehicles was introduced in England and Wales to protect the public from the harmful effects of smoking. This means that non-smokers are now protected from passive smoke in places such as work vehicles. However, six years later we are still not protecting the most vulnerable in society, children, from being exposed to passive smoke in the small, enclosed confines of private vehicles. Despite the overwhelming public support, nearly 80 per cent of adults and 65 per cent of smokers, opponents of a ban have argued that a ban would be an infringement on civil liberties with some people believing that you can just wind the window down or put the air-conditioning on.

However, research by the University of Aberdeen shows this does not stop the high toxic levels of cigarette smoke that exceed the levels of pollution that the World Health Organization recommends as safe, from entering the car and ultimately a child’s smaller and less developed lungs. We are liberal by name and by nature, so we rightly think long and hard before banning anything. But protecting a child’s right to health and wellbeing is a matter of positive liberty.

Adults understand the dangers of smoking and can choose not to smoke in a car. Children on the other hand don’t always grasp to the extent to which second-hand smoke can be harmful and can lack the ability and confidence to ask adults not to smoke in their cars. A British Lung Foundation survey of 8 to 15 year olds showed that only 31 per cent of them felt confident enough to ask an adult to stop smoking in a car and that 34 per cent were too frightened or embarrassed to ask the adults to stop. Protecting society’s most vulnerable is at the core of our party. It is in this spirit that we should support a ban on smoking in cars carrying children and protect the one in five children who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.

The different governments in the UK have been trying to tackle this problem through different awareness campaigns. Here in Wales the government has announced that it will consider introducing a law to ban smoking in cars carrying children if the two-year Fresh Start Wales campaign does not lead to a drop in children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. The UK government has invested over £3.5million in awareness-raising campaigns over the past 2 years. But, awareness campaigns alone will not be sufficient to protecting children; it is together with legislation that awareness-raising will be the most effective in protecting the health of our nation’s children. We only need to look at the increase of seatbelt wearing from 25 per cent to 91 per cent when legislation was introduced alongside awareness-raising to see the difference we could make.

We can be proud of our past achievements in speaking out in order to protect the vulnerable. The welfare state – one of the UKs greatest triumphs of the last century – exists because of our political endeavours. We must also remember that as a political party we spoke up on a ban on smoking in public places and urged Labour to stop dithering about and legislate, whilst the Conservatives opposed the law. Yet few could now imagine going back to how things were before. Research has also shown that the smoking ban has had considerable health benefits, for example, a study this year by Imperial College London showed that hospital admissions in children with asthma symptoms went down by 12.3 per cent in the first year after smoke-free legislation was introduced in England and that it has been gradually decreasing since. Isn’t it time we speak up again and ensure we protect some of this country’s most vulnerable?

The chance has come for us to do so. A ban is due to be debated in mid-November as an amendment to the Children and Families Bill in the House of Lords. Stand up and make yourself heard on this issue. We must take this opportunity to protect young people. You can watch a powerful British Lung Foundation video to find out more.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Geoffrey Payne 21st Nov '13 - 1:51pm

    I fully support this policy, currently we have a clear violation of the harm to others principle.

  • Whilst there is a case to be made around passive smoking by children, I’m much more concerned about the findings of research from the University of South Australia which shows a highly significant decline in the cardiovascular fitness of children compared to children in 1975 when smoking around children was much more prevalent than it is today.

    I think developing fitness habits in children will have a far greater long-term effect on ALL children’s right to health and well being than simply banning smoking in cars carrying passive children.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 21st Nov '13 - 2:42pm

    To ban anyone from carrying out a legal passtime in the privacy of their own vehicles is not very liberal.

  • Martin Lowe 21st Nov '13 - 2:56pm

    If that person is by themselves Graham then I’d agree.

    But if they aren’t then it’s a clear violation of the harm to others principle (as Geoffrey says).

  • Are cars a major source of passive smoking around children? Isn’t there more exposure in buildings? How is this to be enforced?

    The smoking ban was not “illiberal”; polluting others is not a right. Banning smoking in cars would not be illiberal but its likely to be (a) ineffective and (b) difficult to effectively enforce. Mobile phone use while driving is illegal but it’s difficult to drive anywhere without seeing people using their phones whilst driving, do we imagine a conditional ban is going to be any more effective?

  • Well perhaps we should restrict smoking to places where there are no children, such as down the pub?

  • For an article that starts with “Too many children in the UK are still being regularly exposed to high concentrations of second-hand smoke in cars”, it is remarkable that no figure quantifying this ‘too many’ assertion is given. Why is that? Even if one accepts the RCP figure – which is likely to be based on dodgy epidemiology, as most of their numbers on passive smoking are – where is the evidence that this exposure is happening in the car, where relatively little time is spent, as opposed to in the home? And, as Richard S said, if you ban smoking in pubs, where the ‘blue blazes’ do you think people are going to smoke?

    Ah, I said ‘think’ – my mistake. There wasn’t much thinking about the smoking ban in pubs. And there isn’t much thinking shown here. But the Helen Lovejoy tendency with their “won’t somebody think of the children” will doubtless trump logic, evidence and liberality once again., as usual.

  • widescreen2010 22nd Nov '13 - 4:30pm

    The figures in this article are so obviously wrong it is alarming to think that its author is an MP.

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