WALES could be the first country in Europe to ban smoking in cars carrying children.
First Minister Carwyn Jones announced yesterday that legislation could be considered within five years if children’s exposure to second-hand smoke did not reduce as a result of stop smoking campaigns.
He said: “Smoking remains the single major cause of preventable and premature death in Wales.
“Children are particularly at risk from second-hand smoke, especially in vehicles where a confined space means there is no respite from the harm of the toxic chemicals in cigarettes.
“We will mount a renewed campaign to tackle smoking alongside other interventions such as quit programmes, but will consider pursuing legislative options if children’s exposure to second-hand smoke does not start to fall within the next three years.”
About 5,600 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses in Wales.
Mr Jones said a ban is the “next logical step” after banning smoking in public buildings and would be designed to protect children from smoke and encourage adults to quit.
He said: “Introducing legislation would be a powerful statement of intent about our commitment to the health of our children.”
Dr Tony Jewell, chief medical officer for Wales, added: “Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoking and with no escape from second-hand smoke are more likely to develop long term conditions such as asthma at an early age
which will affect them for their rest of their lives.
“There is robust evidence that the level of toxic chemicals is very high in cars even with window ventilation.”
The potential change in the law has been backed by ASH Wales, a voluntary organisation tackling tobacco use.
Carol O’Keefe, 50, a taxi driver from Wrexham, said: “I think it’s a good thing because I’m not a smoker and I think it makes for a better and cleaner environment.”
Janet Howell, 53, from Rhos, said: “As long as there’s no children in the car it should be up to the individual.
“They should have the right to smoke if they’re on their own. I don’t think it makes any difference to safety.”
Cerian Jones, 19, from Mold, has a 15-month-old baby and smokes. She said: “I smoke when I’m outside when she’s next to me but there’s the fresh air to disperse it.
“I think it’s a good idea because you’re putting your kids’ health at risk if you smoke in the car with them.”
Joe Gaffy, 65, from Mold, said: “It shouldn’t need to be a law, it should be common sense. I smoke but I don’t smoke in the house or the car.
“Driving with a mobile phone has been banned for the last few years but you often see people driving with a phone glued to their ear. It would be impossible to keep track of.”
Helen Wilson, 65, from Mold, said: “I think it’s a good idea but I don’t know how they’d enforce it. I don’t smoke but my son does.”
Karen Ormerod, 42, of Oswestry, said: “It’s right because what if you drop the cigarette? There shouldn’t be anything that’s taking your concentration away from driving. It’s common sense.”
Jenny Venables, 28, from Mold, has an eight-month-old baby. She said: “I definitely think it’s a good idea. They do it with mobile phones so it might work with smoking.”
Sean Ormerod, 42, of Oswestry, said: “If you’re fumbling around for cigarettes and so on it’s like being on a mobile phone or eating.”
Chris Lunt, 32, from Mold, said: “I’ve never smoked but sometimes you get into other people’s cars and it stinks of smoke. It has an impact on the health of your children.”
"A laudable proposal, but how could it be enforced?" - Rebecca Cole
SMOKING in cars is harmful to children.
A straightforward enough claim, given the evidence linking second-hand smoke and potentially life-threatening illness.
You might as well add that smoking in cars – or any enclosed space, or for that matter smoking at all – is harmful to smokers too. After all, related illnesses kill some 5,600 people in Wales every year.
But what if that opening statement went on to say ‘and we want to ban it'’?
First Minister Carwyn Jones says the Welsh government could do precisely that as part of efforts to reduce children’s exposure to smoke.
It would make Wales the first European country to introduce such a law, following examples set in Australia and parts of the US and Canada.
And, setting aside well-rehearsed debates about passive smoking, public health and personal responsibility, it would raise significant questions.
How would such a ban be enforced? What scale of punishment would transgressive motorists – many of them presumably parents – face?
And the big one: what should be the extent of the Welsh government’s intervention in the lifestyles and liberties of its people?
Mr Jones believes a ban would be “the next logical step” following the outlawing, in 2007, of smoking in other enclosed spaces.
It would certainly be in line with the government’s robust approach to the use – what some would term the abuse – of tobacco.
Four years on, many of us will have sat in a pub devoid of overflowing ashtrays and thought: ‘How did we ever allow it?’
But there will also be those who view an extended ban as a Cardiff-based elite meddling where it doesn't belong; that the priority should be regional development,
say, or improved transport links, or new hospitals.
Bold decisions are the prerogative of governments and there will be arguments on both sides.
But there is at least one major piece of motoring legislation the government could point to by way of bolstering its case.
Car makers in the UK have been obliged to fit front seat belts since the mid-1960s.
It wasn’t until 1983, following a decade of 'clunk-click’ campaigns, that a law
enforcing their use was passed.
The Assembly government might well conclude the best results will come from abandoning that interim stage altogether.