Last week MPs voted in favour of plans to amend the Children and Families Bill, making it a criminal offence to smoke in cars carrying passengers that are children in England and Wales. The vote will allow Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to impose the ban in England whilst Welsh Ministers in Cardiff are set to discuss plans to do the same in Wales.
The amendment had passed through the House of Lords last month and returned to the Commons for debate last week. The ban has attracted mass support by politicians, the public and medical professionals.
The motion passed with a majority of 269, with the government allowing its MPs a free vote on the issue. Prime Minister David Cameron was not present as he was in the South West of England visiting areas affected by the winter’s extreme weather conditions.
Shadow Health Minister Luciana Berger called the vote “a great victory for child health. It is a matter of child protection, not adult choice”. She added: “Ministers now have a duty to bring forward regulations so that we can make this measure a reality and put protections for children in place as soon as possible.”
The passing of the amendment, however, gives the government the power ñ not necessarily the compulsion ñ to bring the ban into law. Labour have said that if the ban is not imposed by the next general election then they will include it in their manifesto.
Whilst the vote only covers Scotland and Wales, Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume has said he will introduce a bill to the Scottish Parliament on the issue, whilst the Northern Ireland health minister has plans for a consultation on the issue.
Statistics from the British Lung Foundation say that second-hand smoke in children is responsible for 300,000 GP visits, and 10,000 trips to A&E every year, and that 430,000 children are subjected to passive smoke in cars every week. They said “Toxic second-hand smoke is especially dangerous to children’s health due to their smaller lungs and faster breathing. The risks are increased in the small confines of the car.”
Many countries, including the USA, Canada, and Australia have already made it a criminal offence to smoke in a car carrying children.
The issue has been seen as the latest in a long line of government policies aimed at imposing stricter regulations on smoking, and making it less socially acceptable. This stretches back to the smoking ban in public spaces, which was passed by Tony Blair’s government in 2006, and the ban on tobacco advertising in 2003.
Other amendments to the bill include standardised packaging, already in place in Australia, which would replace branded packaging of tobacco products with uniform grey packages for every brand. Additionally, the tax on tobacco has steadily risen year on year in a bid to encourage smokers to quit, and non-smokers not to start.