Protecting children from harm is an obligation both on parents and families and wider society. Protecting children from passive smoking in cars was up for debate today in Parliament. Liberal Democrats have been at the fore in arguing the case for banning smoking in cars and today Parliament voted to implement the new Smokefree (private vehicles) regulations 2015. The health dividends of this policy will be felt for generations to come.
Today's vote is the result of much internal government and party debate over whether the government should or could enforce a ban restricting the freedom of smokers to choose to smoke in their own car. But because children cannot always speak for themselves and be fully in control over their health, we decided that we must work to protect their right to a smoke free environment. As such, the driver and the smoker in cars with passengers under 18 years-old will be subject to a fine under the new rules.
Importantly, we have designed the legislation in a non-punitive way, to exclude convertibles with fully open roofs and other common sense measures. The legislation will be measured on health benefits, not on fines, and will be reviewed for effectiveness in five years.
Once buckled into their seats, they have very little control over the smokers in the car. One in five children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in cars, which is responsible for 300,000 GP visits and 165,000 new episodes of disease a year.
The British Lung Foundation noted that only one in three children surveyed had asked the smoker to stop smoking, and even with the window open, research shows that a child in the centre back seat will experience around two thirds as much second-hand smoke as in an average smoke-filled pub.
It has been estimated that this measure alone will generate a £33billion saving in smoking-related healthcare on children over the next ten years.
The ban and the impact of second-hand smoke will be the subject of a social marketing campaign starting on the 9th February. But there is no single magic bullet that will address all of the health harm of tobacco. That is why we have championed the introduction of standardised packaging and the under-18 ban on e-cigarettes, which both tackle the fashionability of smoking to adolescents.
History has shown that educational campaigns on smoking and seatbelts are most effective in changing behaviour when combined with proper legislation, and public opinion is now strongly in favour of health-related measures. Six our of ten smokers and almost eight out of ten adults agree that smoking in cars that are carrying children who are younger than 18 years-old should be banned.
As a constituency MP I host many school visits to parliament, particularly by primary schools. Smoking, and what government is doing to tackle it, comes up more than any other single subject. Today Parliament listened to the voice of children.