Proposed legislation that would outlaw smoking in cars carrying children is being put to a vote in the House of Lords today.
The plans, which have been put forward by the Labour party, would see an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, in a bid to protect children from second-hand smoke and lower the prevalence of child smoking related diseases such as asthma and cot death.
Currently, smoking is banned in most enclosed public spaces in England, with the 2007 legislation leading to a significant drop in the numbers of people smoking.
It is hoped that a further ban would see that figure drop further, by making it a specific offence to fail to prevent smoking in a private vehicle when a child is present.
What Britain's motorists really want is a universal ban on smoking behind the wheel for the reasons that it causes involuntary harm by forcing passengers to breathe in second-hand smoke and distracts the focus of the driver whose concentration should be solely on the road. – Phil Jones, Motors.co.uk
Speaking to Sky News, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "When it comes to improving the health of children, we are duty bound to consider any measure that might make a difference.
"Adults are free to make their own choices but that often does not apply to children and that's why society has an obligation to protect them from preventable harm.
"Evidence from other countries shows that stopping smoking in the confined space of a car carrying children can prevent damage to their health and has strong public support."
However, the Department of Health has already voiced its concern over the bill, saying that education was a more effective way of discouraging adults from smoking around children.
Pro-smoking group Forest is also opposed to the bill. Its director, Simon Clark, told BBC News: "Legislation is completely unnecessary. Most adult smokers accept that smoking in a car with children present is inconsiderate and the overwhelming majority choose not to.
"Education, not legislation, is the way forward."
If the ban becomes enacted, it would only affect drivers in England, though the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland are already considering their own changes to the law.
It seems, however, that motorists welcome the proposed changes. Late last year it was revealed in a Motors.co.uk poll that 32 per cent of drivers would like to see the ban imposed.
Phil Jones, of Motors.co.uk, said: “Whilst we fully support the Labour Party's proposal to implement a law to ban smoking in the presence of minors, this isn't enough to settle the appetite of British drivers.
“Indeed, our survey reveals that what Britain's motorists really want is a universal ban on smoking behind the wheel for the reasons that it causes involuntary harm by forcing passengers to breathe in second-hand smoke and distracts the focus of the driver whose concentration should be solely on the road.
“It's because of these concerns that we're hopeful this policy doesn't end up as another whimsical electoral ploy to help generate quick votes. The public clearly wants change in this area, and they will lose even more faith in British politics if another promise is broken.”
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