From the 1 October 2015 anyone who smokes in their car while transporting youngsters (under 18’s) will be liable to a £50 fine. As much as I welcome the legislation it does not go far enough to protect young people nor non-smokers.
There are two possible offences for which the driver of a private vehicle can be fined. Firstly, it is an offence for a person of any age to smoke in a private vehicle that is carrying someone who is under 18 years and secondly, it is an offence for a driver (including a provisional driver) not to stop someone smoking in these circumstances. Where somebody commits both offences, they could receive two fines.
The law does not apply if the car is a convertible and the roof is completely down and stowed. Nor does it apply to caravans, motorhomes or campervans when they are used as a home nor to e-cigarettes.
This legislation is overdue. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, of which 43 are known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. Secondhand smoke is dangerous for anyone and smoking in cars is particularly harmful to passengers. Opening windows and doors does not remove its harmful effects.
Children are especially vulnerable, because they breathe more rapidly and have less developed airways, lungs and immune systems. This puts them at risk of serious health conditions including asthma, bronchitis and even ear infections.
Across the board there has been a tacit acceptance that e-cigarettes are not harmful. In 2010 just 9% of smokers tried e-cigarettes, that number had risen to 35% by 2013. This is similar to the approval that cigarettes received in the 1960’s. Smoking was popularised and nobody, including doctors, said that smoking was bad for your health.
E-cigarettes are an unregulated product in the UK. At this stage, for very good reason, nobody can prove that e-cigarettes are bad for the health, but neither can it be said that they are safe. Until there is a long term study, their effect is an unknown quantity. Add to this the quality and content will vary from product to product. Although the maximum dosage for nicotine is 20mg per millilitre, in some e-cigarettes the content may be higher.
The good news is that Europe has a Tobacco Products Directive which comes into effect in 2016. The Government will then be arranging for products that contain nicotine, (the agent that causes the addiction) to be licensed as medicinal products.
Now turning to the passive smoking element of e-cigarettes. If the safety cannot be measured for the smoker, it follows it cannot be guaranteed for those inhaling the smoke as a by product.
I welcome the new law. However, I feel that it does not go far enough to safeguard young people and non smokers. As much as parents and adults smoke in their cars, they are also likely to smoke at home. I understand that this would be difficult to police but this danger should be reflected in the legislation. If children are especially at risk in a car, how much greater is that risk at home?
Finally, in excluding e-cigarettes the Government is speculating with the health of young people and non-smokers. They should be erring on the side of caution and include a ban on smoking in homes as well as a ban on e-cigarettes.