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10 myths about smoking in cars with children

We've taken on some of the most common myths about smoking in cars with children.

Smoking in cars with children is banned throughout England, Scotland and Wales thanks to the thousands of you who joined our campaign. Together, we're continuing to fight for a ban in Northern Ireland.

Here's our response to some of the reasons people tell us they oppose the ban.

1. “A ban is unenforceable”

Laws relating to smoking in work vehicles, wearing seatbelts, and child car-seat regulations are already successfully enforced in this country, and no policing organisation has made any suggestion that enforcing the ban on smoking in cars carrying children would be any more difficult.

Similar bans are already successfully enforced in countries like Australia, South Africa and Canada, and there is no reason to believe British authorities would be any less capable.

2. “Surely the police have better things to do with their time?”

Second-hand smoke increases a child’s risk of illnesses ranging from common colds and ear infections through to asthma attacks, meningitis and cot death.

Every year, it results in around 300,000 GP visits and nearly 10,000 hospital admissions, costing the NHS over £23m. Protecting children from this danger would therefore be a very worthy use of police time.

3. “Second-hand smoke isn’t really that bad for children”

The NHS and World Health Organisation are very clear about the dangers of second-hand smoke in children, as are health care professional bodies such as the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the British Medical Association, all of which support this ban.

Having previously mentioned the range of serious illnesses that can result from second-hand smoke in children, to claim second-hand smoke isn’t harmful for children is just plain wrong.

4. “Very few parents still smoke around their kids”

Data from the NHS – the largest and most recent research available on this subject - suggest that every week, more than 430,000 children aged 11-15 are exposed to second-hand smoke in the family car. Nearly 200,000 are exposed every day or most days. Were official figures available for under-11s, and children exposed in vehicles other than the family car, these totals would most likely be considerably higher.

Therefore, while many parents are rightly very careful not to smoke around children, it is clear that many more children still need protecting.

5. “Education is better than legislation – we should persuade people not to smoke in cars, not ban it”

There have been several high profile awareness-raising campaigns on this issue, yet nearly half a million children are still regularly being exposed to second-hand smoke in the family car every week.

Research has shown that, when the law was changed to make wearing seatbelts compulsory, rather than just having awareness campaigns, the number of people complying increased from 25 per cent to 91 per cent virtually overnight. If a ban on smoking in cars carrying children has even half that impact, hundreds of thousands of children would benefit.

Research shows bans in Canada have resulted in a significant decline in child exposure to second-hand smoke. It’s important that we give children in this country the same protection.

6. “This law infringes on the civil liberties of smokers”

This argument assumes that the rights of an adult to smoke around a child outweigh the rights of a child to breathe clean air that won’t make them sick.

Surely the relatively minor inconvenience the ban would cause smokers – having to smoke before or after a journey with children, or to pull over on long journeys just as they would if they needed a coffee – is worth it to protect children from illnesses such as asthma attacks and meningitis that can result from second-hand smoke?

7.  “This ban will lead to bans in all cars, in people’s homes and then everywhere”

Smoking in cars results in concentrations of toxins much higher than are normally found elsewhere – for instance, up to 11 times higher than you used to find in the average smoky pub.

Children are much more vulnerable to these toxins than adults, and are also less able to choose alternative modes of travel or speak up if they don’t like someone smoking.

Suggesting that other bans will inevitably follow insults the intelligence of the public to make up their minds on each law on a case-by-case basis.

8. “If the government starts telling parents they can’t smoke round children, soon they will telling them what they can feed them”

Even though too much salt, sugar and fat is bad for children, a certain amount of each is actually necessary for their health.

This is not true with second-hand smoke, which is never good for children. It is therefore much clearer to say exposing a child to second-hand smoke in cars is wrong, and that we have a duty to do what we can to prevent it.

9. “A ban would be the nanny state going too far”

People once described the law against drink-driving as an example of the nanny state going too far, telling people what they could or couldn’t do in their own car.

Yet most now accept it as sensible. Other than being about protecting children within the car rather than pedestrians and other drivers outside, this law would be exactly the same. And given the number of children it affects, the benefits for the nation’s health could be equally if not more dramatic.

10.  “This law will mean that a 16 year-old can legally smoke in the car, but you can’t smoke around them”

This claim is based on a simple misconception that children can legally smoke from the age of 16. In fact, the law states 18 is the legal limit for buying cigarettes, hence this is the age at which at which the ban will apply.

The age of 16 is not included in any smoking laws in this country, so is irrelevant to this issue.