A mere 24 hours after health minister Anna Soubry - she of the ‘obese fat poor children’ comment - backed the often vaunted idea of a ban on smoking in cars as a ‘child welfare issue’. Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the government is considering such a ban along with expanding the ban in public places further and insisting on plain cigarette packs. This would mean that the smoking ban would be extended to private cars, primarily to save children from inhaling secondary smoke.
The Prime Minister is actually a former smoker, and when a question was raised about smoking by Labour's Ian Mearns, the PM said the government would “look carefully at the idea” all as part of a what was planned as major review of smoking laws with the intention of improving public health.
“We are looking across the piece at all the issues”, he said, “including whether we should follow the Australians with the ban on packaging and what more we can to do to restrict smoking in public places.
"There has been a real health advance from some of the measures that have been taken. We must consider each one and work out whether there is a real public health benefit, but you make a good point.”
It was particularly good timing from Ian Mearns as Miss Soubry, a junior minister for public health, had become the first Conservative frontbencher to suggest a ban on smoking in cars with children present, although she was at pains to stress that her comment was actually her own opinion and not her party’s policy.
“I would ban smoking in cars where children are present”, she had told the Local Government Association at its’ annual public health conference. “I would do that for the protection of children. I believe in protecting children. I would see it as a child welfare issue. I think it is something we should at least consider as a government”
Despite smokers groups opposing the move, and probably Human Rights and Freedom of Action groups too, there are many health groups that have called for a cigarette ban in cars for years with the confined space increasing the concentration levels of toxic fumes that other passengers breathe in by up to 11 times. In fact, in the past, the government has actually produced marketing campaigns to try and encourage people to not smoke in front of their children at home or in the car (after 20% of people in a Department of Health survey admitted that they constantly did so.)
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “The case for a ban on smoking in cars is now unarguable. Since the BLF began this campaign in 2010, we've had overwhelming support from the public, from politicians - and now from the Government's own health minister.
“Unfortunately, since then, children's exposure to second-hand smoke has resulted in 800,000 primary care consultations, 440,000 new episodes of disease and 25,000 hospital admissions.”
And that’s not to mention the 300,000 UK children that have to visit their GP each year due to problems relating to second-hand smoke, with 9,500 visiting hospital.
The anti-smoking charity Ash said there is “growing public support for a ban on smoking in cars altogether” according to policy advisor Martin Dockrell. He continued: “The minister can count on our support and the majority of the public. A ban on smoking in cars is the right thing to do. We need to think about whether this should just be aimed at children. Older adults are vulnerable too.”
Last year the House of Lords did approve plans to ban smoking in cars, with the punishment for offenders ranging from a £60 fine to attendance on a smoke awareness course (Is that really a serious suggestion?) and Labour MP Alex Cunningham did try to introduced legislation to enforce a ban (but he faced a lot of opposition from all parties and was forced to drop it), but the government decided to take the awareness and educational route rather than the blanket ban one with David Cameron suggesting that it would “curtail personal freedoms”.
This “personal freedoms” ideology is one that oppositions fall back on when faced with insurmountable evidence, and the smoking/non-smoking argument faces it as well. But smoking in cars has already been banned in South Africa and some parts of Canada, the US and Australia; so where’s the freedoms problems there?
It has been medically proven that second hand smoke is particularly damaging to babies and children as their smaller lungs will breathe in relatively larger doses of smoke than adults, and their immune systems are still developing. And this can lead to problems such as asthma, ear infections, pneumonia and even cot death – although research into the effects is continuing; although research has discovered that children who breathe in smoke are more likely to get cancer in later life.
Personal freedoms v Life. Hmm,,,,Let me think.